TWEET OR TWIBEL
The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury

Chapter 6: The High Cost of Advertising Injury Lawsuits
Part 1: Advertising Injury Lawsuits: A Social Media Case Study

The Columbia Daily Herald's article, "Woman Asks for Dismissal of Facebook Defamation Suit," tells the story of Beth York, a woman caught in the crosshairs of a libel suit that started on Facebook. A developer named Donnie Cameron is suing York for the comments she made on the "I Heart Spring Hill (TN, y'all)" Facebook page. Cameron alleges that the comments damaged his reputation and professional life.

York's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that it doesn't meet the legal standards for libel. They argued that her comments were not false or defamatory. The motion also argues that Cameron's lawyers haven't proven how the statements hurt his business dealings.

The Facebook "Libel" That Landed York in Hot Water

Between March 14 and April 4, 2013, York made the following Facebook posts about Cameron:

  • "He's a criminal who may or may not be involved in mafia-type underworld illegal gambling. Scary!"
  • "We're talking about a guy who can no longer contribute or be a booster for UT Athletics I believe b/c he was so crooked. What exactly do you have to do to get banned from giving money to a huge money-driven athletic program?"
  • "One wonders whether progress and common sense has been held up by our 'illustrious mayor' or Donnie Cameron (or both). Why would these candidates align themselves with such a guy who's been incarcerated for 6 mos. on at least one occasion and doesn't even live in our city?"

In response to the posts, Cameron filed a lawsuit against York, alleging that she had committed defamation and libel, tortious interference with business relations, and false light invasion of privacy. He's demanding $250,000 in damages.

York responded to the claim by denying that the posts defamed Cameron. She requested that the case be dismissed because Cameron does indeed have a criminal history dating back to 1991. He was convicted for illegal gambling relating to video poker machines he owned and handed a 10-month sentence to be split between federal prison and a halfway house.

And York was right about UT, too. Turns out, University of Tennessee officials distanced themselves from Cameron for improperly contacting a men's basketball signee.

The fate of the case has yet to be determined. But one thing is certain: the lawsuit is probably a financial burden York wasn't expecting when she voiced her opinion on Facebook in the spring of last year. And if a private citizen could be sued for defamatory remarks, a small business that makes the same mistake could easily face a similar legal entanglement.

Next: Part 2: The Cost of Hiring an Attorney

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