Digital Dose Wednesday – Donald Trump Wins Law Suit Over Twitter Tweets

Libel laws in the United States place a high burden of proof on the plaintiffs and it is because of these very laws that plaintiff’s often loose in libel suits. Just a few days before Donald Trump takes his position as President of the United States, the very laws that he wished to “open up” have swayed in his favor. The New York Supreme Court has agreed to dismiss a defamation suit brought by plaintiff Cheryl Jacobus, who Trump accusatorily tweeted that she had “begged” him for a job and went “hostile” when she was turned down.

Jacobus sued former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski over these comments seeking $4 million in damages. Jacobs argues that the Trump campaign actually tried to recruit her in May 2015 and even enticing her with forecasts of putting her on a campaign position at Fox News.

Jacbous appeared on CNN in early January 2016 discussing Trump’s decision to skip a primary debate on Fox News and ranted on the fact that he was “using Megyn Kelly manufactured kerfuffle as an excuse.” A few days later, she returned to Don Lemon’s show questioning Trump’s claims of self-funding his campaign. It may have been these events which set Trump off on how he “turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major Loser, zero credibility.”

Trump’s response to the libel lawsuit was that the statements were “pure opinion.” Which is not susceptible to any defamatory meaning since opinion statements cannot be proved true or false. Trump’s attorney also persuaded the judges that due to the hyperbolic nature of Twitter and the fact that Jacobus was a media personality they face high burdens since she has more than enough opportunities to rebut points.

This lead to a hearing in October where the judge heard Trump’s attorney, Lawrence Rosen, say that “perception is reality.” Arguing that Jacobus’ attorney, Jay Butterman arguments gesture towards Nazi Germany with warning that individual rights would be trampled upon just voicing some criticism of someone in power.

New York Judge Barbara Jaffe has decided against Jacobus and has granted Trump a motion to dismiss.

The reason for her decision is that Trump’s tweets of Jacobus having “begged” for a job is “loose, figurative and hyperbolic” and more of a statement of plaintiff’s state of mind and is, therefore, not susceptible of objective verification.” Furthermore, since the tweets were in response to “plaintiff’s negative commentary about Trump, signals to readers that plaintiff and Trump were engaged in a petty quarrel.”

In this case, the judge investigates both the context and medium of expression noting that “Trump’s regular use of Twitter to circulate his positions and skewer his opponents and others who criticize him, including journalists and media organizations who coverage he finds objectionable. “ Since his tweets are restricted to only 140 characters, the judge finds that the tweets are “rife with vague and simplistic insults… all deflecting serious consideration.” For these reasons the judge distinguishes the case from those with heated rhetoric and this case should be held to constitute “communications that cannot be taken seriously.”

Finally, the judge finds that a reasonable reader would find the tweets as “schoolyard type squabble as rendering statements of opinion, even if some of the statements, viewed in isolation, could be found to convey facts.” In conclusion the judge finds the tweets were made with the intent to “belittle and demean plaintiff, and any reasonable reading of them makes it impossible to conclude that …. To some, truth itself has been lost in the cacophony of online and twitter verbiage to such a degree that it seems to roll of the national consciousness like water off a duck’s back.”

Credit: Jessica Wong

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