Twitter has rebuffed claims in a defamation lawsuit filed by the Hollywood actor James Woods, arguing that users who labelled the film star a “cocaine addict” and “registered sex offender” were simply engaging in “hyperbole”.
Woods took the social media company to court on 28 August in an effort to force executives to reveal the identities of “Abe List” and “TG Emerson”, who, the actor says, are responsible for a campaign of insults against him. The double Oscar-nominee filed a $10m (£6.5m) defamation lawsuit against Abe List in July, arguing the user’s comments “jeopardised Woods’ good name and reputation on an international scale”, and warning: “AL, and anyone else using social media to propagate lies and do harm, should take note. They are not impervious to the law.” It is not clear if he is also suing “TG Emerson”.
Now online magazine Vulture reports that Twitter’s lawyer for the case, Ryan Mrazik, has filed a legal letter accusing Woods of trying to “chill the First Amendment”, the US constitutional chapter that deals with free speech, and arguing the users were merely responding to the actors’ own combative tweets.
“The speech at issue appears to be opinion and hyperbole rather than a statement of fact,” reads the letter. “Further, the target of the speech is a public figure who purposefully injects himself into public controversies, and there has been no showing of actual malice. Attempts to unmask anonymous online speakers in the absence of a prima facie defamation claim are improper and would chill the first amendment rights of speakers who use Twitter’s platform to express their thoughts and ideas instantly and publicly, without barriers.”
Woods’ critics point out that he once told a fellow Twitter user to “put down your crack pipe” during a heated conversation about the right-leaning actor’s anti-Obama tweets. Mrazik further suggests that Woods “routinely employs insults like ‘clown’ and ‘scum’”, and also “accuses others of drug use as a rhetorical trope”.
A lawyer hired by “Abe List” to defend the case told the Los Angeles superior court that Woods was “a well-known part of Twitter’s culture of political hyperbole”, citing a Daily Beast article which described the actor as “Obama’s biggest Twitter troll”. “Perhaps because he’s so consistently combative, or perhaps because he’s played the role of drug users in his movie career, ‘James Woods is on cocaine’ has become a Twitter in-joke or meme,” said Kenneth White, of Brown White & Osborn, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Woods’ lawyers have poured scorn on allegations that the actor’s own combative social media style invites users to respond in kind. “We are not aware of any false statements of fact made by Mr Woods, and his sometimes sharp commentary on political matters is irrelevant to the allegations here,” wrote his counsel, Michael Weinsten, in legal filings.
The judge in the case has scheduled a hearing on 2 October, according to reports.
This article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 1st September 2015 16.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010