It’s Christmas Eve and I wake to discover the big story this morning is Newsweek’s use of a hashtag to signal it’s last print cover. Really? Is this what real journalism has turned into? And the world wonders why the print edition of Newsweek has come to an end?
For years, print journalists marked the end of their stories with -30- or another dingbat to signal to copy boys and editors that the story was finished. Sometimes this was marked with a symbol now known in the Twitterverse as a “hashtag.”
I think Tina Brown should be applauded not sneered at for her realistic and brave cover. She not only realizes that social media has killed true journalism, but she recognizes it and is embracing her new electronic reality.
The hashtag, as used on Newsweek, signals a farewell to the great tradition of print journalism, when real news with vetted sources made a difference. It says hello to the brave new world we live in now where news is discovered in tweets, real journalists quote their tweeps and the masses don’t seem to care. Oh, give me the days for my old Royal typewriter.
Everyone’s tweeting on Twitter so how much trouble could you really get into in just 140 characters? It depends on how succinct you can be and how far you can reach. As an attorney, the best way to advise a corporate clients small business or an individual is to think before you tweet.
Many people are successfully using the social platform to promote a business or product, even themselves. Some tweeps, as the members are often called, have tens of thousands of followers, while celebs like Demi Moore have over three-million followers. The reach is far and once you place a sentence into the Twitterverse it can die on the vine or go viral, so let’s explore its implications in light of statements which may disparage someone’s reputation.
The tort of defamation is determined differently by each state but they each consist of basic elements:
publication of a statement to at least one other person other than the person defamed;
a false statement of fact (although opinion and hyperbole are excluded);
that it is clearly about the person who is defamed with the intention of harming his/her reputation; and
if the person is a public figure than actual malice must be proven. (BTW – you should check out the old 1981 Paul Newman flick, “Absence of Malice.” It’s a great movie and gives a more than adequate explanation of defamation and libel v. slander. Just think: libel=print and slander=verbal)
The global reach of social networking / Photo: jscreationzs/freedigitalphotos.net
Lawyers know that you can name anyone in a lawsuit but whether the complaint sticks or not is another question. Someone who believes they are defamed might choose to sue the person writing the offensive tweet, along with Twitter itself. However, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, provides immunity to the content provider that is not an actual publisher or editor (meaning they have no control over the content), so there go the deep pockets.
A handful of these suits have popped up across the country. There was one filed earlier this year against musician/actress Courtney Love and another involving an Illinois woman who only had 20 followers and tweeted a complaint about mold in her apartment. The mold suit was dismissed. The point is that at some point in the near future, someone will defame another person purposefully and their 140 characters will come back to haunt them and this might set a new standard for Twitter defamation. Therefore, the golden rule of Twitterville should now be “tweeple, beware and think before you type!”
Everyone is broke. Mom and Pop; you and me; towns and villages; the State of California……….even the subway’s in a hole (sorry, couldn’t resist). The State of California, however, has come up with a unique way to raise some revenue to help plug its $19 BILLION debt. They want to advertise on your car. That’s right, they want to charge you to register your vehicle and then lease out space to sponsors. Whoooooa, put on the brakes because this idea sounds rife with problems.
The plan calls for digital license plates which would run advertising banners. The high-tech plates would actually be small computer screens which would display an image of a plate and then, when the car is stopped for four seconds or more, advertising banners would crawl across the screen, like that annoying crawl across the bottom of TV news stations. The measure in front of the state legislature would only allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to “explore” the possibility and not actually implement the program just yet but think of the ramifications. Also, would these high-tech tags work if the car is driven out-of-state or would out-of-state police have to guess about identifying a car that goes speeding by or commits a crime?
California could use these high-tech tags for immediate emergency notifications, such as Amber Alerts for missing children. Further, under the proposal, motorists would have a choice as to whether to take part and as to which sponsors would be displayed on their vehicles. I personally wouldn’t want an ad for hemorrhoid creme on my car – what a pain in the tag!
It’s unlikely the state would be allowed to censor sponsors thanks to this nation’s free speech rights. The only limits would likely be on ads for anything deemed obscene and in California almost anything goes! However, what happens when no one wants an ad for condoms on their bumper (although more protection could prevent accidents)? Let alone ads for beer or wine – could that be considered promoting drinking while driving?
Customize your own plate
I think it will be several years before the creative powers that be in California figure out a way to execute this program safely. Yet, if they think texting and cel phones while driving are a problem now………..just wait until the hackers break into the new DMV plate program and are able to deliver instant tweets. Pick up lines will take on a whole new meaning! “Honk if you’re horny!”