As we previously reported, according to court documents obtained by The Blast, Roslyn La Liberte claims Reid used “her substantial social media presence, fame, and reputation as a hard-hitting journalist” to publish “fake news” to her followers that La Liberte “screamed abhorrent racial slurs” at a 14-year-old boy.
Back in late June, activist Alan Vargas tweeted a photo of La Liberte in a “Make America Great Again” hat seemingly yelling at a high school student during a City Council meeting in Simi Valley, California.
She was among a crowd that was said to have called the teen a “dirty Mexican” and told him “You are going to be the first deported,” Vargas’ tweet claimed. He wrote in the post, “Spread this far and wide.” So Reid clicked the retweet button, sending the message to her 1.2 million followers.
La Liberte claims Reid falsely accused her of hurling racial slurs at a teen in the photo that went viral, and she’s hired the best attorney to handle her defamation case against the journalist.
Reid tweeted an apology to La Liberte and the teenager, saying, “It appears I got this wrong.” That didn’t stop the woman from filing a lawsuit Sept. 25 against Reid for defamation and requesting punitive damages.
“[La Liberte’s attorney] Lin Wood is one of the best plaintiff’s defamation lawyers in America. The woman is clearly a private figure,” Bandlow says.
As Reid’s legal team prepares its response, the fight is spotlighting an issue most Twitter users likely haven’t considered: Yes, it is possible to be liable for defamation by retweeting someone else’s defamatory statement. “Certainly, a retweet is a form of republication,” says Marvin Putnam, an entertainment litigator at L.A.’s Latham & Watkins. Litigator Jeremiah Reynolds agrees, saying, “If you tweet about someone and say they’re racist, or retweet someone else [saying it], and you don’t have any evidence of that, you could be liable for defamation.”
Experts are split on whether the underlying tweet from activist Vargas is actually defamatory, but they agree Reid’s retweet could make her liable for defamation if the court finds that it is.
“While the people are private figures, the issue is of public concern,” says Putnam. “If you don’t know it is not true and have no reason to believe it is not true, then it should be fine as this is a matter of public interest, which requires actual malice before there can be liability when wrong.”
Also factoring in the case is the tendency of Twitter users to spew so-called “fake news.”
“In the Twitter context, courts have seemingly adopted a higher standard for what can be considered defamatory because there’s so much inflammatory content that happens on the site,” says Litigator Jeremiah Reynolds. “Everyone is reasonably expecting hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric, and, to me, this falls in that category.”
PHOTO: MSNBC Screenshot
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