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NBA ref sues AP reporter for libelous tweet

On April 28, 2011, in Defamation, Social Networking, United States, by Jorge Espinosa

It was only a matter of time before we started to see libel suits involving tweets.  Tweeting, which involves 140 character messages exchanged on a distributed network run by Twitter, Inc., has become a ubiquitous from of communications for many.  Once a message is twitted, others who receive it can propagate the message by “re-tweetting.”

News organizations have become frequent users of Twitter as part of their strategy to connect with the readers and to build interest in their news reports.   This has led to an interesting lawsuit for an associated press reporter.

In  Spooner v. The Associated Press et al. (U.S. Dist. Ct-Minneapolis-Court File No.0:11-cv-00642-JRT -JJK), NBA Referee Bill Spooner alleges that during a Jan. 24 game between the Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, he called a foul on a Minnesota player.   Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis disagreed with the call and engaged in a verbal exchange with Spooner.  Spooner allegedly promised to review the call at the half, but Rambis  “asked him how he would get the points back.” According to Spooner, he did not respond to this question.   According to the complaint, however, associated press reporter Jon Krawczynski tweeted to his readers that  Spooner “ told Rambis he’d ‘get it back’ after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.” Spooner alleges that the tweet is defamatory and accuses him of game-fixing. He has demanded that the tweet be deleted and retracted and seeks “more than $75,000″ in damages.

Although it is not a direct issue in this suit, an interesting question is raised by the facts as to the liability which might be faced by those to “re-tweet” the original tweet.  A look on Twitter shows that Krawczynski’s tweet has been re-tweeted 29 times.  Each re-tweet is a republication of the libelous statement and could subject the re-tweeters for liability.  That, however, is a lawsuit for another day.  If you don’t want that other suit to be about you, be careful what you re-tweet.


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Jorge Espinosa

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