What journalists need to know about libelous tweets

by by Mallary Jean Tenore Published Aug. 8, 2011 7:07 amUpdated Aug. 8, 2011 11:35 am

Rumors that CNN had suspended Piers Morgan due to the News of the World phone hacking scandal spread on Twitter earlier this month, sparking an important discussion about whether journalists need to verify information before tweeting.

The incident, which we wrote about on Poynter.org, prompted commenter S.J. Dahlman to wonder: Can tweets be libelous?

It turns out they can be.

“Statements on Twitter can form the basis of a defamation lawsuit just as much as any form of publication,” explained David Ardia, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina. “It’s just sometimes with new technology, it takes a little longer for people to start to take what they read seriously enough — and more importantly for lawyers — to pay enough attention to start to bring lawsuits based on it.”

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