Creativity

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 freestocks.org on Unsplash

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25 Comments

  1. This is definitely something to be mindful of.

    Also- often we’re moving so fast we don’t stop to read an article in its entirety before posting a negative comment about someone. I’ve seen some nasty debates take place on social because of this very thing.

  2. This reminds me of the thing many “Christians” used to do years ago. Pass along an email to far and wide about how Madilyn Murray O’Hair (sp?) was trying to get prayer out of school and she had been dead for several years. How idiotic was that? And how silly we looked. Sometimes I think is is wiser to just not pass along information-true or false. Sometimes even true information can be damaging. Then again maybe some would feel I have no right to say anything since I am off social media except for reading blogs and blogging myself. And I don’t miss it.

    1. Christians (like everyone else) have found that with email and social media, just one click can share something, and it’s just become too easy. That’s not a good thing. Great point Bill.

  3. I’m also careful with what content I “LIKE” or ‘Heart’ on social media. I’m seeing it happen more often when, say for an example, someone who has an extreme alt-right or left agenda (whichever side really), creates ‘moderate’ content that has gone viral or has been shared by a friend. We can then fall into a trap that sees us unwittingly share content created by a ‘personality’ that we would fundamentally disagree with, whose morals and ethics are nowhere near in alignment with our own. It is becoming a more common strategy, to draw moderates in with ‘safe’ content so that they then subscribe to these extreme accounts without realising. We have to be so careful.

  4. I was thinking about this when reading an article about how ‘smart phones’ have changed the landscape of the world just as automobiles one did.

    The problem with smart phones is, there’s no perception that an education is needed to use it.

    You need a license to drive a car because society needs to know that you know all the rules of the road, the penalties for disobedience, and the huge responsibility driving a car carries with it.

    Perhaps we need to do the same with smart phones!

  5. There’s a trend in the UK, to ‘out’ people on social media. I have seen posts reportedly of ‘paedophiles’ or ‘thieves’ who have been caught ‘red handed’ and instead of handing them over to the authorities, people or groups share them on SM and they often get tens of thousands of retweets. I’ve often thought that it’s just a matter of time before someone gets it wrong and a lawsuit ensues. I don’t think it’s a bad idea either…let’s allow the courts and authorities to handle justice issues. It’s not the job of untrained people on social media to be jury and executioner.

    1. That’s a great point, and in fact it’s already happened. I’ve seen numerous stories of people “exposed” on social media and their lives tormented, only to find out it was the wrong person. But by then it’s too late. Digital vigilantes…

  6. This is definitely something to be mindful of.

    Also- often we’re moving so fast we don’t stop to read an article in its entirety before posting a negative comment about someone. I’ve seen some nasty debates take place on social because of this very thing.

  7. There’s a trend in the UK, to ‘out’ people on social media. I have seen posts reportedly of ‘paedophiles’ or ‘thieves’ who have been caught ‘red handed’ and instead of handing them over to the authorities, people or groups share them on SM and they often get tens of thousands of retweets. I’ve often thought that it’s just a matter of time before someone gets it wrong and a lawsuit ensues. I don’t think it’s a bad idea either…let’s allow the courts and authorities to handle justice issues. It’s not the job of untrained people on social media to be jury and executioner.

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