The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the New York Times vs. Sullivan, a case that has set the precedent for future libel cases in the United States. However, technology has developed significantly over the past 50 years, and social media sites have become a normal part of everyday life. Twitter, a social media site that allows a user to publish a 140-character statement to one or multiple users, has become the avenue of recent libel cases.
“Twibel” is becoming more common, with individuals making seemingly defamatory statements about others on their personal social media accounts. However, the lower courts, commonly using the Sullivan case as a model, have had mixed results when dealing with “Twibel” cases.
The Internet, and Twitter specifically, allows individuals to post comments without much thought of the consequences. Currently, few legal guidelines exist when dealing with “Twibel,” and the current legal framework is not as effective as it could be ̶ a principle was set 50 years ago, primarily dealing with newspapers.
The future of Sullivan and the digital age is unknown. No cases have set a precedent for how to deal with social media and libel. Until a standard is specified, a gray area will continue to exist with social media and libel. This podcast explains why (transcript available).
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