Food for thought on public tweets:
Those 140-character “microblog” posts to Twitter don’t constitute much more than links, dinner recipes, and bitching, right? Be careful with the bitching, though—a property management company in Chicago has filed a lawsuit against a tenant who tweeted an off-the-cuff comment about the company. The company, Horizon Group Management, says that the Twitter user in question sent the message maliciously, and is now asking for $50,000 in damages.
There are several reasons why this lawsuit is breaking new ground, not the least of which is its Twitter origin. There is much debate as to whether people’s Twitter streams are more like blogs—which are increasingly being held to the same legal standards as regular media when it comes to defamation—or a giant chat room, where most people presume “anything goes.” It may actually be somewhere in between, but the one problem with trying to hold tweets to a higher journalistic standard is the hard character limitation—it’s difficult to back up your comments within 140 characters (or even within several 140-character tweets), plus links to sources or pictures of evidence.
The other question is: did Horizon make any effort to sort out this issue with Bonnen before filing the lawsuit? It doesn’t seem so, given Bonnen’s immediate deletion of her Twitter account after the lawsuit was filed, but we admittedly don’t know the answer (and Horizon did not respond to our request for comment by publication time). The lawsuit makes no mention of the company making any effort to ensure that Bonnen’s apartment doesn’t have mold or to work with her to address her concerns.
Either way, the company has now managed to position itself as one that a lot renters and prospective homeowners wouldn’t want to do business with, unlike those that monitor their reputations on Twitter to address customer service issues. Zipcar, Boingo, one of my local pizza places, and even Allstate and Comcast have all swooped in to help out Ars staffers in need after we have aired some complaints. Even if Bonnen really had no mold and Horizon was technically innocent, the bad PR from this move will surely do more damage than Bonnen’s message to 20 of her best Twitter friends.