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Can I Sue Twitter?

Can I Sue Twitter?

You may be able to sue Twitter, but only in a handful of circumstances. You cannot sue Twitter for content someone else posts that offends you or hurts your reputation. But you may be able to sue Twitter if they post videos, photos, or documents that belong to you. You may also be able to sue if you were a Twitter employee who was fired in violation of a severance agreement or for a discriminatory reason.

Suing a social media company like Twitter is a challenge. While some of the legal theories are straightforward, others are complicated. And Twitter has teams of lawyers on its side who get paid to do nothing other than defend against lawsuits. If you are thinking about suing Twitter, you should consider getting legal advice from an experienced civil rights lawyer, an intellectual property lawyer, or an employment lawyer (it will depend on the type of lawsuit you want to bring).

What Is Twitter?

Twitter is an online social media platform founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. Users can post 280-character-long messages, known as “tweets," that are shared with followers and other users across the world. Twitter allows people, organizations, and even countries to discover and share news and events, follow people whose content they enjoy viewing, increase brand awareness, and communicate with their friends and followers.

Twitter has grown into one of the most popular social networking websites on the internet. As of December 2022, the number of monthly active users stood at 368 million worldwide. Users share about 6,000 tweets per second, which amounts to around 200 billion tweets per year.

Twitter's current owner is billionaire Elon Musk. He bought the platform in October of 2022 for about $44 billion. He has been under intense media scrutiny recently. Shortly after he took over the company, Musk began cost-cutting by laying off thousands of Twitter employees. He then implemented less-restrictive content moderation policies which some believe increase the risk of misinformation and disinformation on the platform. Finally, he reinstated numerous controversial accounts, including that of former President Donald Trump.

Why Might You Want to Sue Twitter?

There could be many reasons why you are upset with Twitter. One of the more common reasons is the content of someone's tweet. You may be on the receiving end of false statements that hurt your reputation or you might be an artist or author whose work is being shared on Twitter without your permission. Or you may be a former employee of Twitter who lost their job in the mass layoffs after Musk took over. If you were thinking about suing Twitter, your chances of winning depend on the nature of your complaint.

Content of a Tweet

You may be upset with the content of someone's tweet. Twitter users can be rude and mean. If you are offended by someone's tweet, it's best to ignore it. An alternative is to report the tweet and see if Twitter Safety will pull it down.

But sometimes someone tweets something false that hurts your reputation. Say, for example, you're a restaurant owner and someone falsely tweets that they saw rats in your kitchen. If you can identify them, you might be able to sue them for defamation.

But you wouldn't be able to sue Twitter. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act declares that interactive computer services, including social media platforms such as Twitter, are not the “publishers" or “speakers" of content posted by third parties. Section 230 essentially grants Twitter immunity from most civil claims, including defamation, based on third-party content.

You also wouldn't be able to sue if Twitter refused to remove an offensive or even a defamatory statement. Section 230 immunizes Twitter from lawsuits based upon its decision to remove or leave up objectionable content posted by a third party. As long Twitter acts in “good faith," they are free to remove any “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable" content or it can choose to leave it up. It's up to them. Twitter is a private company so it gets to determine whether something violates its terms of use. Even if it clearly does, Twitter can still choose to leave it up.

Intellectual Property

What Twitter cannot do is violate your intellectual property rights. Intellectual property laws, specifically copyright laws, protect creative works, including books, poems, photographs, videos, and paintings. They grant the creator of an original work the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Make "derivative works" (other works based on the original work)
  • Distribute copies of the work
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly

The owner of the copyright gets to decide the terms on which their work is used or reproduced. If someone reproduces a work without permission, the owner of the copyright can sue them for copyright infringement.

Section 230 contains an exception for intellectual property. If someone on Twitter tweets, say, a photograph you took and sold to a gallery without your permission, you could theoretically sue Twitter, as well as the user who tweeted it, for violating your copyright (you'd want to ask them to pull the tweet first).

Contractual Limitations

If you are a Twitter user and want to sue about someone, you need to be aware of certain contractual limitations. When you signed up for Twitter, you had to create a Twitter account. Do you remember all that language you had to scroll through before you could just hit, “I accept"? By clicking “I accept," you agreed to Twitter's terms of service. This created a binding contract between you and Twitter. And as you may imagine, that contract skews so far in Twitter's favor that it makes a lawsuit almost pointless.

All is not necessarily lost, however. Twitter cannot use its terms of service as a way of getting around state and federal laws. Twitter probably couldn't get away with banning accounts based solely on that person's race or religion, for example. And if you do not have a Twitter account you are not bound by its terms of service.

But the terms of service would apply if Twitter blocked your account for any reason not prohibited by state or federal law and you want to sue to get it back. In that situation your options would be limited, at best.

Limitations of Liability and Disclaimers

Section 5 of Twitter's terms of service contains what are known as limitations of liability and disclaimers. These limit Twitter's liability and your potential recovery in a lawsuit. In this section, you agree:

  • Twitter disclaims responsibility for all of the content on its site
  • Twitter cannot be held liable for content posted by third parties (even if it's defamatory or illegal)
  • Even if you did sue Twitter and won, the most you could collect is $100 or the amount you paid Twitter in the six months before your claim arose (whichever is greater).

So if you were to sue Twitter, you'd have to get around the limitation on its liability for third-party content. And even if you manage to persuade a court that you shouldn't be bound by that limitation, you would still be restricted to a recovery that's substantially less than the filing fee you'd pay to start your lawsuit.

Forum Selection Clause

The terms of service also make it hard to sue Twitter. According to section 6, if you do want to sue Twitter, the only place you can do it is in state or federal court in San Francisco County, California. This isn't practical for someone living in, say, New York. Unless you live in the Bay Area, suing Twitter would cost you much more than you could probably recover.

Employment Law

Maybe you're in the unusual position of having worked for Twitter. Everything was going swimmingly until Elon Musk came along and fired most of the workforce. If you are one of those people, you may be able to file a lawsuit in two particular situations.

Illegal Discrimination

The first is illegal discrimination. In California, employment is generally “at will." That means you can fire an employee whenever you want, for a good reason or for even no reason.

But you can't fire them for an illegal reason. Federal law and state law create protected classes of people based on certain characteristics, such as race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity. If an employer were to fire you based on your membership in one of these protected classes, you would be able to sue. A skilled civil rights attorney would be able to help you with your claim.

Breach of Contract

The second situation is for breach of contract. Not every employee is an at-will employee. Many employees, especially those higher up on the organizational chart, have employment contracts. If you have an employment contract, then your employer can only fire you if they can satisfy the terms of their contract.

Twitter is facing a slew of lawsuits brought by former employees for violating the terms of their employment contracts. For example, some claim that Twitter failed to reimburse their business expenses. Others contend that Twitter fired them without just cause. Regardless of the contractual basis, most of these lawsuits will not be decided in court. Instead, they will be decided through an out-of-court process called arbitration.

One particular case should be noted. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a lawyer, has brought a class action against Twitter on behalf of its former employees. A class action is a procedural mechanism that allows people with similar claims to group their cases together and have them resolved in a single lawsuit. This class action lawsuit is currently underway in federal court in San Francisco.

Consider Consulting With a Lawyer

Social media is everywhere today, and Twitter is one of the largest platforms. If you get into a dispute with someone on Twitter, your best bet is to ignore it. If you run across objectionable content, report it to Twitter Safety and see if they'll take it down. Trying to sue Twitter for content posted by a third party is not worth your time or trouble.

But there are some situations where you would be able to sue Twitter. If you have a dispute with Twitter over something Twitter did (such as violate your copyright or fire you without cause), you may be able to sue Twitter. Contact an experienced:

A lawyer can advise you about your legal rights within an attorney-client relationship and help you decide if bringing legal action is in your best interests.

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