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AP and NBA Referee Reach Settlement Over Tweet

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Twitter by Andreas Eldh on Flickr

Twitter by Andreas Eldh on Flickr

Another entry in the “Be Careful What You Tweet” file: an NBA referee and the Associated Press have reached a deal over a sports writer’s tweet that suggested the ref had promised a coach a make-up call after a contested call that went in favor of the opposing team.

AP sports writer Jon Krawczynski was courtside during the January 24, 2011 game between the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, when he tweeted:

Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d ‘get it back’ after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.


When Referee William Spooner heard about the tweet he called foul — via a lawsuit against Krawczynski alleging defamation, namely damage to his professional reputation. Spooner was investigated by the league following the tweet in question.

Defamation is a statement presented as fact (not opinion) that may harm someone’s reputation; defamation law attempts to balance the freedom of speech and open exchange of ideas without giving someone permission to run around spreading lies (again presented as fact) about someone else.

As we’ve mentioned before in reference to the Johnny Gill Twitter controversy, no Twitter lawsuits have yet made their way to trial; in the most famous case involving the microblogging service, Courtney Love agreed to pay $430,000 to a fashion designer over allegedly defamatory tweets just before the case entered a courtroom. By the by, Love has since been sued again over other tweets, and that case is still pending.

Krawczynski originally responded that his tweet was “true or substantially true,” but as part of the settlement between the AP and Spooner, the writer now says he “acknowledges the possibility that he misunderstood” what was said.

Spooner has agreed to drop the suit provided Krawczynski’s tweet disappears from Twitter and the referee’s $20,000 attorney’s fees are paid.

And so ends the case of the $20,000 courtside tweet.

If these settlement dollar figures aren’t enough to make you think twice before your tweet, check out Mediabistro’s “warning to US journalists” regarding the potential for successful Twitter libel lawsuits — and remember, journalist or not, tweets are published, and if they’re also false and injurious, a lawsuit may not be far behind. Tweet with care!

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December 13th, 2011 at 10:52 am

Posted in First Amendment

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