On July 29, 2015, actor James Woods, care of his attorney Michael Weinsten (Lavely & Singer), filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County for defamation and false light invasion privacy against Twitter user “Abe List” and multiple other Doe defendants who, the complaint alleges, “may be held directly liable for the defamatory posting by [Abe List] by virtue of having knowingly assisted [Abe List] in the publication of the false and defamatory statement and/or having knowingly republished the false statement without having any reason to believe in its accuracy.”

The lawsuit focuses on a tweet posted from the account of “Abe List” on July 15, 2015, referring to Woods as a “cocaine addict.”  According to the complaint, “Abe List” “stepped over the line by falsely accusing actor James Woods of being a ‘cocaine addict’ on the social media site Twitter, a message sent to thousands of [Abe List’s] followers and hundreds of thousands of Mr. Woods’ followers.”  Apparently, this tweet did not represent the first time that “Abe List” has disparagingly tweeted in reference to Woods.  According to the complaint, “In the past, [Abe List] has referred to Woods with such derogatory terms as ‘prick,’ joke,’ ‘ridiculous,’ ‘scum,’ and ‘clown-boy.’”

This case represents yet another example of how the rise in popularity of social media has exacerbated the occurrences of defamation and false light invasion of privacy by enabling users to hide behind the perceived safety of their computer screens in order to viciously attack the reputations of others.

The complaint states that the “cocaine addict” statement was untrue and is therefore defamatory.  In support of its false light claim (which is not available in all states), the complaint alleges that the tweet “placed Woods before the public in a false and outrageous light, which is highly offensive to Woods.”  For each cause of action, Woods seeks general and special damages of not less than $10 million, as well as exemplary and punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to punish and deter Defendants.”

However, Woods will likely face challenges in the form of identifying the defendant(s) and his classification as a public person, meaning that he must prove actual malice on the part of “Abe List.”  It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Chris Borns

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