A Chicago woman has been slapped with a $50,000 lawsuit by her landlord. Horizon Group Management filed the lawsuit after the woman complained about her apartment on Twitter. Horizon was angered by her claim that they didn’t care about the mold problem in her apartment. Although she did not have her tweets protected, the complaint only reached about 20 people. Horizon claims the statement “”maliciously and wrongfully” defamed them.
In the woman’s defense, they admit they didn’t bother to contact her or ask her to delete the tweet, they simply ran to their lawyer, and they freely admit they are a “sue first and ask questions later” kind of company. The woman has since moved out of her apartment and has not made any comment on the suit.
While I personally think the landlord is seriously overreacting, there is an important lesson to be learned here. Unless you protect your tweets, anyone will be able to see them. They are completely public. It’s obvious this company was searching Twitter for mentions of itself, and if you are one of the many who are searching for employment these days, you can pretty much be assured that potential employers will be searching for you as well, so think twice about bashing your former boss or posting a racy pic-even protecting your tweets won’t keep your friends from retweeting things.
The same holds true for your MySpace and Facebook pages. Unless you use the privacy settings anyone who does a simple Google search will be able to see everything. Facebook’s new personalized URLs make that even easier. I have my pages set so only friends can see what I post. Anyone not my friend gets a very simple page that provides little info and prompts them to sign up and/or send me a friend request. I find this setting adequate. There is even a deeper setting for Facebook where you can completely block your profile, including your photo and even make yourself unclickable when you leave comments on other people’s pages so that people can’t message you or send you a friend request. (I find this to be overkill and think it makes you come across as very cold and unfriendly though.) MySpace’s new Profile 2.0 lets you decide exactly what content you want public and which you want to restrict to just friends.
Of course none of these privacy tools will work if you are careless about who you accept as a friend/follower. On Twitter, never automatically follow people that follow/request to follow you. Take the time to check them out. On Facebook, quality is far better than quantity. My rule of thumb is not to accept friend requests from people I don’t know (unless we share a mutual friend) if they don’t include a note telling me who they are. As with Twitter, take the time to check people out.
Social networking is a valuable tool and great fun too, but learn how to do it safely!