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TexLaw
TexLaw, Attorney
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Lead trial/International commercial attorney licensed 11 yrs
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My employees are constantly harassed over Twitter by ex-employees

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My employees are constantly harassed over Twitter by ex-employees who I fired on bad terms. What can I do to stop them from bullying my people?

Zachary D. Norris :

Hi,

Zachary D. Norris :

What exactly is the nature of the harassment over Twitter?

Customer:

Personal attacks, bullying, and threats to publish emails between feuding employees. Its essentially a slander campaign.

Customer:

Some of my employees are now "afraid" to go on twitter and its affecting their work.

Zachary D. Norris :

So the ex employees have emails from current employees that would be damaging if published? Are the ex employees threatening to publish anything false?

Zachary D. Norris :

I'm gathering from your statements that using Twitter is part of your employees job?

Customer:

Yes. Their manager had some choice words with them on exit. They're not false. We're talking about news reporters, by the way.

Customer:

I'll provide you some examples:

Zachary D. Norris :

thanks

Customer:

the three of them allege we "steal content" which is false. this is the slander example

Customer:

"You're downplaying their amount of errors; it's multiple in EVERY post, even the ones they steal."

Zachary D. Norris :

OK. If they publish something like that, then we are talking about slander.

Customer:

example of threats to physical:

Customer:

"You know that feeling where if you ever see someone again you are going to hurt them? Yeah, I really want to rip out some throats right now."

Zachary D. Norris :

OK. That qualifies as a terroristic threat

Zachary D. Norris :

The police should be notified regarding that one

Customer:

example internal communication leak:

Customer:

"oh man. The evil I could do with some of these archived chats and e-mails...oh man...."

Zachary D. Norris :

Did these ex-employees ever sign any sort of employment agreement, specifically a confidentiality agreement?

Customer:

this goes on all day. we had clients interact with them on twitter before and public relations people, so I want to put an end to this

Zachary D. Norris :

I understand.

Customer:

I'm afraid not. We realized too late and couldn't get them to sign before they were fired.

Zachary D. Norris :

I'm thinking of three solutions.

Zachary D. Norris :

ok

Zachary D. Norris :

The first two are legal

Zachary D. Norris :

First, any sort of threat against you or any employee like that of physical violence is a crime

Zachary D. Norris :

So, you need to take all the messages sent that have threats of physical violence to the police and tell them who is doing it.

Zachary D. Norris :

Second, the threat of making a defamatory statement is generally not actionable in civil court.

Zachary D. Norris :

However, if you have an attorney for your company, you want to send out a "Cease and Desist" letter

Zachary D. Norris :

Let me ask you, did the ex employees ever publish any of the false information about the company to any third parties?

Customer:

just on twitter, to my knowledge

Customer:

which is public to everyone as you know

Zachary D. Norris :

So, just to clarify, are they making these statements on the company's twitter feed? Or do they have their own twitter account from which they are making these statements?

Customer:

these statements are made from three personal accounts

Zachary D. Norris :

ok. I was wondering that because, as I'm sure you are aware, there are ways to block people from making comments on your twitter feed. However, since it is from their personal accounts then this means that the statements are being made to third parties.

Zachary D. Norris :

So, let's talk about defamation.

Zachary D. Norris :

Under New York law, the elements of a defamation claim are:



  1. a false statement;

  2. published to a third party without privilege or authorization;

  3. with fault amounting to at least negligence;

  4. that caused special harm or defamation per se.


 

Zachary D. Norris :

The statements that the ex-employees are making are definitely the kind of statements that could hurt the business reputation of a media organization.

Zachary D. Norris :

To stop it, you are going to want to retain counsel

Zachary D. Norris :

Then counsel will send out a cease and desist and give a stern warning.

Zachary D. Norris :

If that warning is violated, then you would file suit and seek an injunction, as well as damages for defamation.

Zachary D. Norris :

I think the most immediate result you are going to find will be from filing a criminal complaint with the police.

Customer:

I'm reading through this now. http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide/new-york-defamation-law This looks like a good start. NY accepts the Internet as a publication.

Zachary D. Norris :

Absolutely

Zachary D. Norris :

Publication on the internet and via twitter have been upheld as defamation in New York

Zachary D. Norris :

As have statements on facebook and other social medias

Zachary D. Norris :

People think they can say anything they want to, but when you are talking about a business, people can very easily fall into defamation.

Zachary D. Norris :

Are you thinking of trying to do this yourself without a lawyer?

Customer:

I will need to hire a lawyer to do this.

Zachary D. Norris :

I agree.

Zachary D. Norris :

The most important thing you can do is to preserve evidence

Zachary D. Norris :

And also, you need to try and figure out how many people saw the false statement

Zachary D. Norris :

The hardest thing to show in a defamation case is damage

Customer:

ok, I can do that

Zachary D. Norris :

For the lawyers you are looking for, I think for a case like this, you may be able to find someone who would take it on contingency

Zachary D. Norris :

But you are much better off going with paying someone a retainer fee

Zachary D. Norris :

Are you in New York City?

Customer:

In terms of damage, I have employee statements who feel persecuted (emails venting) and I believe user comments may have been posted on our blogs or forums. I'll have to check with our editor.

Customer:

I'm in San Francisco. The editors in question were freelance

Zachary D. Norris :

OK...that's interesting.

Zachary D. Norris :

If the editors in question are in New York, then it will be easiest to sue them in NY

Customer:

agreed

Zachary D. Norris :

However, since we're talking about communications that are concerning an interstate company, you could possible sue in federal court in CA

Zachary D. Norris :

Is there anything else I can do for you today?

Customer:

I'll give that a shot. Thank you very much, you've been very helpful.

Zachary D. Norris :

Its a pleasure to help you. Good Luck!

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