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Controversial Tweets Testing Limits of Free Speech


What separates Twitter from other social networking sites has always been its trademark brevity. Restricted to 140 characters, users are forced to be concise and truncate their thoughts, opinions, or news. As is often the case, though, pithiness comes at the expense of nuance, subtlety or sarcastic intonation, leaving tweets open to wide and varied interpretation. When the tweeter has some particularly strong opinions to get off his or her chest, feelings get hurt and, in some high-profile instances, lawsuits (and confusion) unfurl.

Courtney Love, for one, was recently sued by designer Dawn Simorangkir over a series of especially caustic tweets the singer posted. After having argued with Simorangkir over the price of vintage costumes, Love went on her own "Tweet Offensive," calling the fashionista a liar and a thief. Simorangkir sued Love for libel in March, according to the New York Times.

In March, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $25,000 by the NBA for criticizing referees' calls on his Twitter account, and the NBA has since banned all players from tweeting immediately before, during, and immediately after games. In July, a landlord in Chicago sued a tenant for $50,000 for tweeting about mold in the apartment she was renting from him. Demi Moore also took issue with Perez Hilton after the blogger posted racy photos of her 15-year-old daughter, accusing Hilton (via Twitter) of flirting with "child pornography." Hilton retaliated with tweet jabs at Moore's mothering, deeming her "inept."

These arguments and suits underscore the burgeoning issue of where to draw the line between free speech and character defamation -- a difficult task on a medium as uniquely configured as Twitter. With no real, legislated guidelines, Twitter offers a 'Wild Wild West'-type realm of information. Users fire away at will with opinions that, in their 140-character distillations, may often be misconstrued or blown out of proportion.

According to free speech experts, the same technicalities that separate freedom of speech from defamation apply to Twitter and other social media. It's our collective moral compass, though, that will likely shift over time, as we acclimate to these newer modes of communication.

If you ask us, Twitter should continue to be what it is and has been -- an open range of dialogue where people can express everything this side of death threats or hate speech. Eventually we'll adjust and adapt. Until then, we'll probably have to put up with more celebrity mudslinging. And by "put up with," we mean "relish." [From: New York Times]

Tags: courtney love, CourtneyLove, defamation, demi moore, DemiMoore, law, libel, perez hilton, PerezHilton, top, twitter

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