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Watch What You Tweet: 4 Twitter Lawsuits

With over 95 million messages sent via Twitter every day, you might be asking yourself, “Is anybody out there?” Say the wrong thing, though, and you might find out exactly who's listening – when you receive a subpoena. Here are four real Twitter-related court cases that might make you think before you tweet.

1. Siegal v. Kardashian

According to online sources, celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Mandy Moore, Kelly Clarkson, and Jersey Shore’s Snooki are losing weight by gobbling down specially baked cookies as part of the incredibly popular Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet. However, one name you will not find on the list of celebrity cookie monsters is Kim Kardashian.

In October 2009, the Siegal Cookie Diet website linked to a story that reported Kardashian was on the cookie weight loss plan. When the socialite heard that Siegel had linked to the article, she and her lawyers felt it implied she was endorsing the diet, which she was not, because she has a contract to promote a different weight loss solution, QuickTrim. Siegal took down the offending link and thought that was the end of the situation. But Kardashian turned to her Twitter account to set the record straight with her (then) 2.7 million followers, saying, “Dr. Siegal’s cookie diet is falsely promoting that I’m on this diet. NOT TRUE! I would never do this unhealthy diet! I do QuickTrim!” She then went on to tweet, “If this Dr. Siegal is lying about me being on this diet, what else are they lying about?”

Considering how many people follow Kardashian on Twitter, plus the fact that she is a paid endorser of a competing weight loss product, Siegal felt the tweets had the potential to hurt their business. In December 2009, they filed a defamation suit against Kardashian claiming, “She is in the public eye and when she makes a comment people hear it… that negative impact could cost us tens of millions of dollars.” They went on to say she had a “commercial motive” for defaming the cookie diet since she is an endorser of QuickTrim.

So far, the case is still pending. But according to some legal experts, Kardashian's statement that the cookie diet is unhealthy could be construed as her personal opinion, therefore it would be protected as Free Speech. However, if a court believes she might have been coached by her QuickTrim employers that the cookie way is the wrong way to lose weight, that could cost her.

2. La Russa v. Twitter

There are many parody celebrity Twitter accounts out there, but most clearly state that they’re fake. That wasn’t the case with a fake account set up using the name of St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa.

In April 2009, the owner of the @TonyLaRussa Twitter account, which had only 4 followers at the time, tweeted a few unkind things about some Cardinals’ players. But what got the real La Russa fired up was a tweet saying, “Lost 2 out of 3, but we made it out of Chicago without one drunk driving incident or dead pitcher…” The remark, appearing to have come from the coach, referred to La Russa’s 2007 DUI in Florida, as well as the June 2002 death of pitcher Darryl Kile in a Chicago hotel room after suffering a heart attack. That was the final straw for La Russa, who filed a lawsuit against Twitter for various claims, including cybersquatting, Trademark Infringement, and Trademark Dilution.

About a month after the suit was filed on May 5, 2009, Twitter took the fake account down. Perhaps coincidentally (perhaps not), on June 11 of that year, Twitter announced their “Verified Account” program, a process by which celebrities can prove they are the real tweeters and help fans avoid confusion. A few weeks later, on June 26, La Russa’s lawyers voluntarily dropped their suit.

Since then, the real La Russa has been using his Twitter account (@TonyLaRussa) to inform nearly 12,000 followers of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (www.arf.net). Or at least we can only assume it’s the real La Russa because, ironically, it’s not a verified Twitter account.

3. Simorangkir v. Love

Dawn Simorangkir, AKA The Boudoir Queen, has had an impressive career as a model, make-up artist, and now fashion designer. But according to Simorangkir, her business has been severely damaged by Courtney Love, “The Queen of Noise,” and her popular Twitter account.

After the two had worked amicably together designing custom dresses for Love, the relationship soured after some disagreements over the amount of money Simorangkir charged for the clothes. At 12:55am on the morning of March 17, 2009, Love started a series of social media posts railing against Simorangkir, starting with a lengthy post on MySpace, numerous tweets throughout the rest of the day, and even hitting the comments section of the popular handcrafted product site Etsy, where Love initially discovered Simorangkir's work. Over the course of her day-long rant, Love accused the designer of stealing, lying, being a drug dealer and addict, being a homophobe and racist, having been arrested for prostitution, and even threatened “you will end up in a circle of scorched earth hunted til your dead.”

On March 29, 2009, Simorangkir filed a lawsuit against Love with six separate legal complaints, including libel, breach of contract, and emotional distress (she later dropped the emotional distress complaint). After months of legal wrangling, Love's lawyers submitted a 217 page motion - referencing everything from Perez Hilton to printed pages from Wikipedia - asking to have the case dismissed. They argued that Love's First Amendment Rights were being violated, and that Love did not reference Simorangkir by name, therefore making it difficult to prove whether Love's online statements were true or false, a necessary requirement to claim libel.

Despite the motion to dismiss, the judge has allowed the case to proceed, setting it to start on February 8, 2011.

Not only will the case be a landmark as far as social media liability is concerned, but Love's lawyers are planning to use an unusual strategy - that Twitter is so addictive and provides such immediate gratification, that Love couldn't help but post without fully thinking through the consequences of her actions. Many experts agree this “social media insanity” plea will be a tough sell in court, but if it's successful, it could easily set a precedent for future Twitter-related cases yet to come.

You're probably thinking, “But I'm not famous. No one will ever notice one of my lowly little tweets.” Don't be so sure about that...

4. Horizon Group v. Bonnen

After a leaky roof at her Chicago apartment building in March 2009, Amanda Bonnen filed a lawsuit in June against the building's management company, Horizon Realty Group, claiming the company had not properly removed mold that had developed in her unit as a result of the leak. While lawyers for Horizon were doing research for the case in July, they came upon a tweet Bonnen sent back in May when she said to a follower, “@JessB123 You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

At the time, Bonnen only had 20 Twitter followers and, because this was a reply to one person in particular, very few of those followers probably even saw the tweet about Horizon. But none of that mattered to the company; in their words, “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” So they filed the first tweet-related lawsuit in history, claiming Bonnen’s tweet was considered libelous, and asked for $50,000 in damages, estimating each of her followers was worth about $2500 in potential lost revenue to the company.

When the case went to court in January 2010, the judge quickly dismissed it, claiming that the tweet was too vague to be considered libel. The very fact that Twitter is a worldwide service, and that Bonnen had not specifically mentioned the Horizon Realty in question was in Chicago, Illinois, or even in the United States, made it too easily confused with any other company of the same name anywhere else.

While it was short-lived, the case has become a textbook example for public relations firms to show companies how not react to the occasional bad-mouthed tweet. If Horizon had ignored Bonnen’s tweet, it would have only been seen by, at most, her 20 followers. But because they pressed the issue, countless people have since read the message in connection with the lawsuit, possibly hurting Horizon's reputation more than if they had just let it go.

Image Credits: Kardashian: © Jason Buehler/Retna Ltd./Corbis; La Russa: © Greg Fiume/Corbis; Love: © Leszek Szymanski/epa/Corbis

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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