Actor James Woods is rather outspoken about his politics, using his Twitter account as a platform to voice his opinions and occasionally berate other Twitter users who disagree with him. In one case, he wrote to a user, “I wouldn’t want you to spend your precious crack allowance being enlightened.”
But when someone posting to Twitter with the user name “Abe List” called the actor a “cocaine addict,” he sued the user for $10 Million. According to The Hollywood Reporter, lawyers for Woods, Twitter and Abe List were in court on Friday after the social media company refused to hand over the identity of Abe List and a second Twitter user.
Woods filed the suit last month after Abe List made his comments, also suing an unidentified person posted as “T.G. Emerson,” who accused the actor of being a “notorious coke fiend and registered sex offender.” When Woods’ team attempted to learn the users’ identities from Twitter, their lawyer, Ryan Mrazik, responded with a letter refusing to hand over records citing the users’ First Amendment protections.
“The speech at issue appears to be opinion and hyperbole rather than a statement of fact,” he wrote. “Further, the target of the speech is a public figure who purposefully injects himself into public controversies, and there has been no showing of actual malice. Attempts to unmask anonymous online speakers in the absence of a prima facie defamation claim are improper and would chill the First Amendment rights of speakers who use Twitter’s platform to express their thoughts and ideas instantly and publicly, without barriers.”
Meanwhile, Able List’s lawyer Kenneth White — one half of the Twitter account “Popehat” — filed a brief on Friday, stating Woods was “abusing the court system to lash out at a constitutionally protected political insult — the very sort of insult he routinely uses himself.”
The judge in the case schedule an October 2nd hearing on the matter.
It’s interesting to see how an older public figure, like Woods, interfaces with this technology. He clearly enjoys the reach Twitter gives him, but quickly uses his access to top legal aid when Twitter’s freedom bites back at him. For the record, I tried to determine whether or not Woods is a registered sex offender only to discover there are a lot of people named “James Woods” in the country. Many are registered, but none public enough to be covered by Hollywood media outlets. As for the coke abuse, who knows? He was a working actor in the 1980s and just walking into that part of town at the time meant inhaling the rampant coke haze mingling in the smog (see? Hyperbole!). To me, it seems like the Twitter users were in fact employing Woods’ own style of attack.
But I suppose the moral here might be this: Twitter, despite what it offers, is a public space and even if you’re the Oscar-nominated star of Salvador, you’re still open to getting a face full of tomato. Well, digital, figurative tomatoes, anyway. Conversely, if you want to poke at a well-known Hollywood curmudgeon, he might try to sue you.