Defamation on a Tweet
Can a defamation suit be filed against someone on the basis of a tweet? Has there been any case where a tweet was the basis of the defamation suit?
Defamation based on tweet will come within the purview of Cyber defamation. Cyber Defamation is publishing of defamatory material against another person with the help of computers or internet with the intention to defame that other person. The harm caused to a person due to publication of such defamatory statement about him on a website is widespread and irreparable as the information is available to the entire world.
Since Twitter is a public handle and all the tweets are available in public domain for every twitter user to read, therefore a tweet can definitely be considered as a published defamatory statement. Today number of Twitter users are in billions so it is established that Twitter has greater readership and followers than any other media house. So a tweet in today's world is not an inconspicuous things. Today, such is the craze of Twitter that debates and discussions are started on the basis of a tweet. So, yes a defamation suit can definitely be filed against someone on the basis of a tweet.
In the case of Tata Sons vs. Turtle International(1), the Delhi High Court has held that publication is a comprehensive term, embracing all forms and mediums – including the Internet. That an internet publication has wider viewership, or a degree of permanence, and greater accessibility, than other fixed (as opposed to intangible) mediums of expression does not alter the essential part, i.e. that it is a forum or medium. There is much sense to have more defined criteria taking into account the nature of the internet content. Injunctions on internet content should not be readily granted (especially ex-parte) since, firstly the internet is an easy, self publishing platform providing a medium of expression for marginal individuals not having corporatist outlets. Secondly, the internet facilitates the distribution of content for a minor cost to a vast audience. Both the alleged injury and the free speech concern are greater due to the wider dissemination of the content. These are only some of the concerns which set the internet apart and it is desirable to have a nuanced appreciation.
Cases where a tweet was the basis of the defamation suit
2010: Chris Cairns vs. Lalit Modi(2): New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns sued the then IPL chairperson Lalit Modi, in the UK's first Twitter libel case over a defamatory tweet sent in January 2010, in which Modi referred to Cairns' alleged involvement in match-fixing as the reason for barring him from the IPL auction. "The allegation made by Lalit Modi that I have been involved in match fixing is scandalous and wholly untrue. For him to circulate such a falsehood around the world is outrageous," Cairns said in a statement. In 2012, a UK court awarded damages of 90,000 pounds and costs of 1.5 million pounds. Modi had said he would appeal.
Jayalalithaa filed two defamation cases (3) against Subramanian Swamy based on Swamy's tweets of September, 17 2014 and September, 20 2014 respectively. The City Public Prosecutor who filed the cases on behalf of Jayalalithaa before the Principal Sessions Court submitted that Swamy's statements on Twitter were defamatory in nature and without any base or verification and the same would defame the Chief Minister in the eyes of public (4).
1. I.A. No.9089/2010 in CS (OS) 1407/2010
2. Neutral Citation Number:  EWHC 756 (QB) Case No: HQ10D00267 Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
3.. (1994) 1 MLJ 314
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