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Twitter Faces First Defamation Lawsuit In Australia

In a strange case that seems more money-hungry than concerned about justice, a Melbourne Australia man is suing Twitter for being the outlet on which defamatory tweets were posted about him.

Joshua Meggitt sued the person responsible for the defamatory tweets, and now he wants part of Twitter’s pie, too.

Meggitt was wrongly named as the author of a hate blog directed towards writer Marieke Hardy, and sued her for defamation.

According to TheAge.com.au Hardy had apparently tweeted the following:

“I name and shame my ‘anonymous’ internet bully. Liberating business! Join me.”

The tweet contained a link to a blog post that Hardy wrote, identifying Meggitt as the author of “ranting, hateful” posts about her. However, Meggitt was not the author of these posts, and sued Hardy for defamation.

The two reached a confidential legal settlement believed to be around $15,000, and included Hardy apologizing publicly on her blog. But Meggitt wasn’t done there.

He and his lawyers have taken the fight to Twitter’s own doorstep, as the publisher that facilitated the defamatory tweets. The “logic” is, the defamatory statements had the largest reach on Twitter, and so Twitter should have to pay.

The tweet sent by Hardy reached her 60,000 followers, as well as participants in an anti-bullying campaign.

Meggitt’s lawyer, Stuart Gibson, served Twitter with a legal notice yesterday. He explains:

”Twitter are a publisher, and at law anyone involved in the publication can be sued. We’re suing for the retweets and the original tweet – and many of the retweets and comments are far worse.”

He goes on to argue that since his client did not have a Twitter account, he did not agree to Twitter’s terms of services, in which users must agree that they take sole responsibility for the content they generate.

It is curious that the Meggitt and his lawyers have singled out Twitter as the one responsible for one of its user’s tweets. I wonder why they aren’t suing the blogging platform, possibly WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr, that Hardy used to actually name Meggitt as her hateful blogger. Or why they’re not suing each individual person who retweeted and commented on Hardy’s defamatory claims. Or the ISP that gave her access to the internet in the first place. By their logic, all of the above could be held responsible in some way for Meggitt’s defamation.

It will be interesting to see how Twitter responds to the lawsuit, although you can bet they won’t settle. They are just the facilitator of communication, not a publisher or content creator. And, since Meggitt’s own lawyer cited their terms of service which states that each user is responsible for the content he or she creates, it’s hard to imagine Twitter being held responsible for something Hardy tweeted.

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