Court Says Tweeting Someone Is ‘F**king Crazy’ Is Not Libelous
There have been a number of libel cases popping up over the past few years where random insults on Twitter are turned into full blown court cases. Tragically, these cases have picked up the “twibel” name — a neologism that seems silly and pointless. . . . In a recent ruling (where both parties represented themselves!), a court recognized that saying on Twitter that someone is “fucking crazy” isn’t libelous, especially as part of a “heated” online discussion.
I have been making this point for years, and now a court is backing me up. I’ve received a number of calls from people wanting to sue for defamation because someone called them “a psycho” or “bipolar” or “schizophrenic”. Are these statements defamatory?
When determining if a statement (here, posted on Twitter) is defamatory, you must consider the context and the meaning attributed to that word by the speaker. Yes, so some extent, the speaker gets to define the word he uses, not the plaintiff who want to sue him for defamation.
So, in this case, there was a heated debate on Twitter about a horse or something, and at some point the defendant tweeted “Mara Feld . . . is f-ing crazy.” (The actual profanity was used.)
Let’s run it through the analysis. In that context, was the defendant asserting the verifiable fact that Feld suffers from a mental disorder? Of course not. It was offered as the usual “you’re out of your mind” sort of statement.
And even if we set the context aside and assume that the defendant really DID mean to assert that the plaintiff is suffering from a mental disease, how would that be defined? He did not say that plaintiff is suffering from bi-polar disorder or some other condition that could be verified, he simply said plaintiff is crazy. I, for example, think anyone who drinks Budweiser is crazy. With so many good beers available, I can’t fathom why anyone would waste liver tissue on that swill. My definition of “crazy” cannot be proved or disproved, so it could never support a cause of action for defamation. Here, only defendant knows how he defines “crazy”.
“Crazy” is a common one, but what if the person had been a little more specific, and had said that “Feld is bipolar? That is a little different, but still not defamatory. Repeat after me: “Context is everything.” Was the author of the remark really intending to say to the world that Feld is clinically bipolar, or was she just using the term in a hyperbolic sense, to report that Feld has mood swings? But wait, there’s more. Even if the author had dropped a footnote and added, “I don’t mean that in a figurative sense; Feld is really bipolar,” it is still not clear defamation. It’s certainly getting close, but since context is everything, before a court would find that statement and footnote to be defamatory, Feld would likely need to show that in the context the people reading that comment had reason to believe that (1) the author is qualified to make that diagnosis, and/or (2) that the author possesses some insider information about Feld’s actual diagnosis from a mental health professional.
I also get calls from women wanting to sue because someone called them a “whore”. That one, as least, is more subject to precise definition. “Whore” is another word for prostitute, so calling someone a whore could be construed as accusing them of illegal conduct.
But let’s run that through the “context is everything” analysis. If in the middle of a diatribe about how the woman stole her man, calling her a whore is not an assertion that she is a prostitute by trade, but rather is a claim that she is a woman of loose morals for taking another woman’s man. On the other hand, if the statement is that she was seen walking the streets and getting into cars, so she is a whore, that would be defamatory if false.