A much publicized Twitter defamation case has come to an unceremonious end. An equine scandal gone legal, Feld v. Conway clarified the Federal Massachusetts District Court’s stance on R-rated social media outbursts.
Horse Retirement Mishap Leads To Defamation Lawsuit
Our tale begins in 2010. WikiLeaks was in full swing, royals were getting engaged, and the horse world was buzzing about an equine scandal.
Gossip at the stable was that thoroughbred owner Mara Feld had accidentally sent her gelding to a horse auction instead of a horse farm. As a result, (so the story goes), the poor animal may have ended up in a Canadian slaughterhouse instead of hoofing away his twilight years as a horsey companion.
As is often the case when mistakes become public, the equine-interested peanut gallery took to the Internet to wax poetic about the faux pas — generously showering the owner with jibes and ridicule. One participant, a Kentuckian named Crystal Conway, added to the conversation by Twitter quipping, “Mara Feld…is f*cking crazy.”
Feld was not impressed with Conway’s assessment and decided to sue for Twitter defamation. The way Feld figured, as a PhD-holding toxicologist whose “prospective employers … [found] … her work by searching the Internet for her name,” Conway’s insult was a professional problem.
In response, Conway argued hyperbole – a protected First Amendment form of speech.
But this Twitter defamation case never made it to trial.
Judge Says Twitter Cursing ≠ Twitter Defamation
After reviewing Feld’s filing and Conway’s motion to dismiss, Judge Dennis Saylor IV sided with the latter. Ultimately, he deduced that Feld failed to state an action “upon which relief could be granted.” In other words, since Feld didn’t include a false statement of fact on which a defamation action could hang, there was nothing for the court to consider.
Additionally, according to MA defamation law, Saylor had to consider the entire context of the statement under review. In the end, Saylor said that Conway’s tweet was akin to an “imaginative expression” and “rhetorical hyperbole” — protected forms of speech.
In his own words, Judge Saylor explained: “Dismissal is appropriate if plaintiff’s well-pleaded facts do not possess enough heft…”
and The phrase “Mara Feld . . . is fucking crazy,” when viewed in that context, cannot reasonably be understood to state actual facts about plaintiff’s mental state. It was obviously intended as criticism—that is, as opinion—not as a statement of fact.
Contact A Twitter Defamation Attorney
Are you dealing with an online reputation situation? Has someone bad-mouthed you or your business on social media? If yes, and you’re curious about available legal options, get in touch with Kelly / Warner. We’ve successfully handled many social media defamation cases. In most instances, we’re able to help clients fix problems quickly and quietly so life and business can get back to normal.
Lawsuits aren’t your only legal option when it comes to Twitter defamation. Get in touch to learn more.