Friday, January 10, 2014

“I’m Firing You! And Telling the World Your Sins—on Twitter!”

From "I'm Firing You! And Telling the World Your Sins - on Twitter":

Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown has fired or disciplined 27 officers and employees in the last year. And every time he brings down the hammer, he announces it on Facebook and Twitter, specifying exactly who the men and women are and what they did. On Dec. 30, it was five officers and a 911 call operator. ... The social media posts aren’t an official policy of the DPD, but rather a “push for transparency” initiative, in Lt. Geron’s words. “[It comes from] a desire to be more transparent and to get our message out to the greater community,” he says.
Read: "I'm Firing You! And Telling the World Your Sins - on Twitter"

While I understand the goal of transparency, the DPD better be 100% factually accurate with any statements it tweets about employees.   While "truth" is the best defense to potential libel lawsuits, if the information is inaccurate or ambiguous (How much clarity comes with 140 characters?), the potential damages in a libel, invasion of privacy, or false light lawsuit filed by an employee could increase substantially, if tweeted worldwide.

Not that the following case would be controlling in Texas, but a federal appellate case in 2009 (1st Circuit) applied a 109 year old Massachusetts law to a libel case, by defining actual malice as the use of truth for “malicious intention.”:
The appellate ruling overturned a federal district court’s dismissal of the libel suit by a former sales director of [a company] against the office supply company for circulating an email to 1,500 employees announcing he had been fired for padding his expense account and ignoring the firm’s code of ethics. ... The appeals court said there’s no question the statements in the email were true but that [the plaintiff] was entitled to a trial on the question of whether the company engaged in actual malice and deliberately wanted to cause him ill will.

1500 emails versus the Twitterverse?  You decide the damages if information is ever malicious or inaccurate.

For a summary on the elements of proving libel (whether negligence or malice), see 
Defamation, Libel and Slander, and similar state-specific articles.

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