Retweets: The Next Big Free Speech Battle?

How often do you re-tweet posts by other people? I have to admit I do it pretty frequently, and have occasionally been guilty of not looking closely enough at the original post. That’s why a recent story by The Hollywood Reporter captured my attention. The magazine described a Twitter incident that happened to MSNBC’s Joy Reid:

“In late June, as a fierce debate over President Trump’s family separation policy raged, a viral Twitter post caught the eye of MSNBC host Joy Reid. An activist, Alan Vargas, tweeted a photo of a woman in a “Make America Great Again” hat seemingly yelling at a high school student during a City Council meeting in Simi Valley, California. The woman, Roslyn La Liberte, was among a crowd that was said to have called the student a “dirty Mexican” and told him “You are going to be the first deported,” Vargas’ tweet claimed. Vargas wrote in the post, “Spread this far and wide.” Reid clicked the retweet button, sending the message to her 1.2  million  followers.
But the MAGA-hatted woman, La Liberte, didn’t actually say those things to the student. A week later, after local news coverage of the incident, Reid tweeted an apology to La Liberte and the teenager, saying, “It appears I got this wrong.” That didn’t stop La Liberte from filing a lawsuit Sept. 25 against Reid for defamation and requesting punitive damages.”

As that legal case unfolds, we have to ask ourselves, how liable are we for the information and ideas we retweet? Some legal experts are saying plenty. For instance, if you retweet someone who makes a false statement, you could be liable for spreading that falsehood. It’s especially a sensitive issue when it comes to potential defamation of others. Obviously, Twitter users with a large following will be more in the spotlight, but it’s enough of a concern to use caution in the future.

How often have we all just casually retweeted a post we liked – but not really taken the time to read the link, or understand the context? That’s the way most people could get into trouble.

The lesson? Be very careful with casual retweeting. You could easily get painted with the same brush as the original person who posted. No matter how catchy or true the headline sounds, take the time to click the link, or read the original post.

As The Reporter says:

“…experts say it’s vital to think before retweeting. And, unless the contents of a tweet have been verified as accurate, users would be wise to couch the retweet with an explanation that they don’t know if it’s true.
“Words matter,” says [Attorney] Putnam. “They have probably never mattered more. Everybody now can have a platform. Understand that what you say has real ramifications. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t’ say it, but it does mean you should be mindful of what you’re saying.”

Photo by on Unsplash

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