Tweet at Your Own Risk

If you deliberately tweet or post "alternative facts" about someone, they may have a strong case for libel.

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By Phil La Duke • Feb 2, 2017 Originally published Feb 2, 2017

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For some misguided social maladroits a combination of the belief in "alternate facts" and their misunderstanding of the limits of the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech has caused them to believe that they can tweet or post on any number of social networks without fear of meaningful consequence. And while to the best of my knowledge (which I admit is limited in this area and as I am not a lawyer -- there's a joke in there somewhere) no one has been sued for liable for tweeting an "alternative fact," I'm convinced that day is approaching like a freight train whose engineer is texting, (perhaps tweeting) at the wheel after huffing a fourth can of gold spray paint. So despite my clearly and circumloqutious dicsclaimer that I am not qualified to give legal advice (or drive a train) I am qualified to fire off some of my off-beat advice for tweeting. Before tweeting you should ask yourself a couple of questions:

Is it true?

The truth can be murky. It can be spun, and incomplete, and even occupy a grey areas, but one should not spew out " alternative facts" without expecting repercussions. "Alternate facts" are what we used to call lies, the kind of thing that got you punished for as a kid. The truth was that we didn't do our homework; the alternate fact was that our dog ate our homework. The truth is that glaciers carved the Great Lakes but an alternate fact is that Paul Bunyan used Babe his blue ox to plough them. The difference between an "alternate fact'' and a complete steaming pile of BS is that nobody really positions a tall tale as valid or as the truth (well almost nobody). There was a time when The National Inquirer was rife with alternative facts, rumors and innuendo, which stopped abruptly when the rag was sued by a number of celebrities, most notably Carol Burnett. The effects of these lawsuits shook the tabloids and damaged what little credibility they had so badly that I stopped believing that crop circles were the work of the greatest scientific minds from Alpha Centuri and now believe them to be the work of two drunk Scotsmen (Similarly I also no longer believe that Big Foot killed JFK.)

The truth, despite recent attempts at obfuscation does NOT lie in the eye (or mouth of) of the beholder, rather it is an assertion of facts backed up by verifiable facts. If you deliberately tweet or post things that you know to be untrue about someone and they suffer because of it, they may have a strong case for libel. One of the multiple things that watching judges Judy and Mathis for hours on end, has taught me is that the best defense against accusations of libel or slander is that the statement in question is true. Posting "alternative facts" or fake news makes you a liar; posting lies that cause someone harm exposes you to legal liability.

Is it Respectful?

I've been told that saying cruel things about someone just because they are true is wrong. Nice people advise asking three questions before saying anything about somebody.

Is it true?

Is it kind?

"Is it necessary?"

This advice, which I seldom follow, is frequently attributed to Buddha, but I suspect he gets credit for a lot of wisdom that he had no part in creating Even so, I would only modify one thing for tweets; instead of "is it kind" I suggest asking "is it respectful". (Social Networks abhor kindness -- something about not being at risk of getting your teeth bashed in frees people to say whatever enters their otherwise empty heads). Tweets should always remain respectful, if not for the sake of the persons addressed, but for the sake of your brand as well. The over-emotional, petulant tweets diminish your credibility. Rise above the insults; it's easy to take the moral high-ground on Twitter because the bar has been set so shamefully low, as of late.

Does it inform?

I get so many tweets that are basically junk mail; they are about as informative as a soggy flyer stuck to my windshield after a heavy rain. If your Twitter followers truly care about what you have to say then they want to be informed about subjects of which they find of interest and junk tweets are just like me sunbathing, nobody needs to see that.

Does it matter?

The fact that I just ate an "awesome" egg-white omelet might be true, respectful, and informative, but does anyone really care? Let me answer that one for you: no, no they don't. And the sandwich was not "awesome". The Grand Canyon is awesome. Before describing lunch, or whatever, as "awesome" visit the Grand Canyon at sunrise. If, after that, you think that whatever you are describing matches the awesome power, majesty, beauty and spiritual and visual impact of the Grand Canyon at dawn, you are living a sad and stunted life and should buy a thesaurus.

Your tweets should advance your cause, enhance your brand, and help you to improve your reputation, not make you look like a petulant boob with hurt feelings.

Phil La Duke


Phil La Duke is a speaker and writer. Find his books at Twitter @philladuke

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