Writing the truth is libel, but only if the truth hurts

How many millions of messages on Facebook and Twitter are posted every day regarding a complaint the poster has about a company, service, and/or his job?  I see them all of the time on my news feed.  People feel better, I guess, after sharing their frustration with friends/acquaintances and/or hope to prevent people from experiencing the same thing.  Then, they go about their day; no harm, no foul.

Except, sometimes there is harm.  Most of the time nothing comes of the things people post on Facebook.  (Though it is incredibly stupid to post anything negative about a person’s job if they want to keep it.  One is more likely to lose his job that way than by what I will soon be describing).  However, there are times when the things people post become huge issues for the company or service in which they tweeted their frustration.  Company loses business because of tweet or post.  And, then, get this:  company can sue for libel.

That’s right, folks.  While we’re all aware of the potential of this happening, it does happen on occasion.  I was just curious how often these frivolous lawsuits occur, so I looked it up.  And, unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised at my findings.  Go ahead and google it if I’ve piqued your curiosity.   I found a lawsuit a few years back where a Michigan college student was sued for libel, $750,000, by T&J Towing Company for starting a Facebook page where people could cite their grievances with the company; commiserate, if you will.

The student claimed that his car was wrongfully towed (and I believe him).  Student stated that the towing company broke into his car and scraped his parking pass off his car so that they could legally tow him.  Student filed a police report as most reasonable people would do, and nothing came of it.  So, that’s when he started the Facebook page to see if other people had similar experiences.  (Info regarding case facts taken from dailyfinance.com).

Turns out many, many people did have similar experiences, and the company claims that they lost business ($750,000 to be exact, projected) because of the Facebook page Kurtz (the college student) created.  Don’t know what happened to Kurtz or to the towing company after the lawsuit.  Didn’t see anything online regarding post-lawsuit details, but I guess that’s because the most interesting piece of journalism was the lawsuit itself.

At the risk of sounding like an Oprah’s book club member [which, given the context sounds negative, but she really does pick some good books.  Reading Middlesex currently, a Pulitzer Prize winner]:  was it okay for Kurtz to post what he posted?  Or did he cross the line?  Was the towing company’s lawsuit legitimate?  Or frivolous?

My take? (which should be obvious by the title of my post).  Frivolous.  I could exaggerate like I oftentimes do and say, “Never has a more frivolous lawsuit been taken to court,”  but that’s hardly the truth.  You can sue for almost anything, and not be penalized for it.  We won’t get on that train today, though.  Just libel.

Firstly, to be clear, libel is written defamation; slander is verbal defamation.  For some reason, many people commonly use the term slander when they really mean libel.  I guess slander is just a word that’s more common in people’s everyday rhetoric.   Secondly, to be clear again, libel is a very real thing, and it does happen.  I’m not trivializing true libel.  But, telling the truth is not libel.  Kurtz was telling the truth (and, the BBB seems to agree with him as it has given the company an “F” rating; yep, the BBB works the same as your elementary school report card in case you didn’t know).

I don’t believe in censorship.  However, that is not to say that I am not careful about what I say and write (even though I’d rather feel more free to say or write what I want to say and write).  Even on here, yes, a blog that is read by very few people.  Have I wanted to say or write certain things at times?  Yes, but I refrain (even if it probably would be okay).

It shouldn’t be that way, though.  I had a certain analogy that I thought of almost immediately when writing my previous post on Valiant and the mass layoffs, but I deleted it.  Left it out even though that title was better, and the content would have been different (better) if our culture wasn’t one that (sometimes) punished people for speaking the truth.

Being objective and stating facts about what a company did, and why it is wrong: truth.

Writing that someone is a profanity after profanity when in fact he is a charitable person: libel.

Our culture has become far too sensitive.  A culture where the truth is exchanged for diplomacy.  Actually, diplomacy is too generous of a term; political correctness is more appropriate.   A culture where you can barely tell from certain job titles what the job duties or responsibilities are for that job.  That’s ultimately where the truth/libel issue stems from, cultural/society changes, so it’s not something that will dissipate in the future.

Apparently, though, the truth can be very hard to objectify and defend.  So, if you’re brave enough to speak it (on issues that matter in which you could offend an “important” person or two), you better lawyer up.

Important was placed in quotes because I don’t believe any one person is more important than another.  Having more money or being more intelligent or a famous athlete makes you a rich person, a gifted person, or an athletic person.  Not a reason to be treated better than anybody else.  Everybody should be regarded with kindness, warmth, and compassion.  My patient who is a homeless alcoholic gets the same treatment as the patient next to him that is a retired investment banker.**

**These are hypothetical examples and are not taken from any actual patients.**  The point remains.  (And, I think is illustrated well by the fact that I place asterisks at the bottom of my posts with clarifications much like Law and Order does when they say events in the show are just coincidental, not based on actual people, etc, blah, blah, blah).  We should treat everybody well regardless of their social status or notoriety.

And, we should be able to speak and write the truth without asterisks.

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