en

The VICE Channels

    The Lawsuit Over Calling Someone 'Fucking Crazy' on Twitter Is Fucking Crazy

    Written by

    Jason Koebler

    Staff Writer

    This is not Munition. Image: Andrea Vallejos/Flickr

    Hey, those of you with poor Twitter judgment: It’s completely cool to call someone “fucking crazy” on Twitter, though you might have to go through the trouble of a legal battle with the person you accused, as one horse enthusiast in Kentucky just found out. 

    The whole thing is a bit nutty, so bear with me here for a moment: Toxicology research scientist Mara Feld bought a horse named Munition for $1 a few years ago. Feld quickly learned that keeping a horse in Massachusetts is not a cheap proposition, and sold Munition to a person who eventually sent the horse to a slaughterhouse. Not a good look.

    The whole thing raised a bunch of eyebrows in online horse communities and eventually, in 2010, got to Crystal Conway, who works in the thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. After reading about what happened to Munition, Conway did what lots of us do after we read something very upsetting—she hopped on Twitter and tweeted: “Mara Feld aka Gina Holt [an alias]—you are fucking crazy!”

    Well, a couple years later, Conway got slapped with a $250,000 defamation case from Feld. To be completely fair—based on that one journalism law class I took in undergrad and the numerous refresher seminars I’ve sat through since then—Feld’s suit had basically no chance of succeeding, but the specifics are still instructional. For something to be defamatory, you’ve got to be making a real claim about someone—that is, a judge would have had to rule that Conway was trying to make an actual, clinical diagnosis based on her tweet. Instead, it fell under this little thing we like to call hyperbole, which is a tactic used by spoiled children everywhere when they don’t get the right color iPhone for Christmas. 

    Dennis Saylor, a US District Judge, decided to throw out the case because calling someone “fucking crazy” is essentially just name calling, which is protected by the First Amendment.

    The phrase ‘Mara Feld . . . is fucking crazy,’ when viewed in that context, cannot reasonably be understood to state actual facts about plaintiff’s mental state. It was obviously intended as criticism—that is, as opinion—not as a statement of fact. The complaint therefore cannot base a claim of defamation on that statement,” Saylor wrote

    Again, that’s not terribly surprising. But what is nice to know is that Saylor ruled that tweets should not be viewed out of context in a suit like this. You might only have 140 characters to voice your opinion, but what you say around them matters, too. Saylor said that, because the (since deleted) tweets came as part of a series in a “heated Internet debate about the plaintiff’s responsibility for the disappearance of her horse,” the other tweets were relevant as well.

    “The tweet cannot be read in isolation, but in the context of the entire discussion,” he said. 

    I called up Conway to see how she felt about being a free speech hero, at least for the time being. She says she still basically thinks that Feld is fucking crazy, and that it’s never fun to be sued, but that the whole ordeal was worth it.

    “Back in February 2011, I posted on Twitter, ‘Mara, you are a fucking moron’ [ed note: She actually called her “fucking crazy!”]. Well, fast forward to 2013, on the last day of the statute of limitations, I got served with papers,” she told me. “I wasn’t offering a psychological evaluation. I was offering my opinion. I can do that all day long, and I still do. I don’t feel bad about it. I feel bad about what happened to that horse.”

    So now you can feel safe talking shit on the internet (at least in the US). Conway told me she hopes the whole thing “will bring a lot of light on the fact that horses need good homes, with smart people who are well educated and financially secure enough to take care of them.” So keep throwing shade on Twitter (please don’t tweet terror threats, though, not so sure that’s covered), and learn more about what happened to Muniton so Conway's annoyance wasn't in vain.

    The Lawsuit

    Connect To Motherboard

    Most Popular

    Comments
    comments powered by Disqus