Should Twitter Users Bear Responsibility for What They Post?

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It seems many people on Twitter feel they can post whatever they want on the social network regardless of how much truth is behind it or whether it may be potentially hurtful to someone. Should Twitter users bear responsibility for what they post?

American actor James Woods has been given the go-ahead on a $10 million anti-defamation lawsuit. An anonymous Twitter user posted something suggesting the actor used drugs. While some people claimed that the statement had some truth behind it, Woods nonetheless sees it as damaging to him and not truthful and is seeking restitution. Once the lawsuit proceeds, eventually the Twitter user will lose his or her anonymity.

That one Twitter user is far from being the only person who spreads lies or rumors on Twitter and other social networks. Once anonymity is applied, it seems to give some people the go-ahead to post whatever they like. It can cause many problems with the lies or rumors being believed, such as causing someone to lose their job, their reputation, or their relationships.

What rights do Twitter users have? Do they have the right to post whatever they want no matter who it might harm and whether or not it is factual? Or is there some responsibility on their part to only post things that they can back up with actual facts?

Should Twitter users bear responsibility for what they post?

4 comments

  1. YES. Users should be held responsible for their posts. However, Twitter is a private entity, therefore it is not bound by First Amendment guarantees. Twitter can set up and enforce any kind of rules it deems necessary, outlining what can and cannot be posted. Unfortunately, at the present time, Twitter has bigger problems than defamatory posts. Twitter needs to figure out how to stay relevant and prevent Facebook from eating their lunch.

  2. Posting something on Twitter or any social medium is really no different than saying
    something verbally or in print. In all cases, if you claim something as a fact and NOT
    just your opinion, you can be sued if in fact you can not prove what you say is true.
    Of course you can always express something as an “opinion” and in that case your
    can not be sued. The obvious conclusion is either label your statement as your “opinion”,
    have the facts to back it up or make sure you have a good lawyer :-)

    • Unfortunately the way things happen on the ‘Net “opinions” quickly become accepted “fact.” You may clearly label your statement as “OPINION” but a reader will re-post it or refer to it as “fact.” Ever play Telephone? What the last person reports hearing rarely bears any relationship to the original statement; the more people involved, the greater the distortion.

  3. Your observation, which I agree is normally the case, does not however affect the
    issue of user responsibility. In the example you gave, the initial poster who clearly
    labeled their input as an “opinion” is free to do so with no legal consequence to follow.
    However any subsequent reposting by another user, who presents it as fact is
    opening themselves up to a charge of libel. If and when someone sues them for what
    they have posted as fact, they will be required to prove that it is true. I don’t think a
    defense that says “I saw it on the net so it must be true” will go too far in a court room :-)

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