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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Parody Twitter Account Not Defamation

While most of us do not need to worry about someone setting up a "parody" social media site pretending to be us, celebrities, athletes, and even government officials can be targets for these pretend sites. We previously wrote about the City of Peoria mayor who fought, and ultimately settled, claims against an individual who set up a fake Twitter profile. In that case, a City resident set up a twitter account called @peoriamayor where he posted a series of tweets about the Mayor using drugs and associating with prostitutes. Even lawyers aren't immune, as a Michigan lawyer discovered.

Todd Levitt, a Michigan lawyer, filed a lawsuit against a law student who had set up a parody Twitter account called "Todd Levitt 2.0@levitlawyer". An example of one of the student's tweets:
"In the words of Snoop Dogg: smoke weed every day. #in ToddWeToke" 
The student defended the lawsuit based on the First Amendment, arguing that his parody account was protected speech. A Michigan court of appeals agreed and dismissed the case. Levitt v. Felton. The court stated as follows:
When read in context, defendant’s tweets are a parody and cannot reasonably be interpreted as coming from Levitt, an attorney and college professor. The cited tweets ridicule and demean the legal profession, as well as Levitt’s status as an attorney and a college professor. In particular, some of the tweets encourage followers to commit alcohol and drug-related offenses in order to further Levitt’s business....As noted by the trial court, when the challenged tweets are read in the context of Levitt’s own tweets, a reasonable person would see defendant’s tweets as attempting to ridicule and satirize Levitt’s tweets about alcohol and marijuana use.
The court also noted that the student's profile "Todd Levitt 2.0" "signals that the account was identifying itself as a superior or upgraded version of Levitt, which hints at the notion that it is a spoof."  As a result, the court found no basis for Levitt's defamation lawsuit, and dismissed it.  


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