Landlord Torches Reputation With Twitter-Driven Lawsuit
By far the most entertaining tech story to go around the Web this week has been the tale of how a Chicago apartment-management firm sued a woman for incinerating its reputation by posting a Twitter update that almost nobody read.
Seriously, you can't make this up.
The story surfaced on Monday, when blogger Marian Wang reported that Horizon Realty Group had just sued its former tenant Amanda Bonnen for $50,000 -- plus court costs -- alleging defamation for this Twitter post, written in May:
You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment is bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it's okay.
Bonnen had a total of 20 followers when Wang wrote that story (though her account has since vanished). In other words, this tweet was the equivalent of a pebble tossed into the Potomac.
Horizon kept digging in its initial response; a Chicago Sun-Times story quoted Horizon's Jeff Michael as saying: "We're a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization."
(When I recounted that response to a roomful of lawyers in D.C. yesterday, they laughed at the foolishness of it.)
If the lawsuit didn't suggest to previously uninterested bystanders that Horizon might be a company best avoided, that quote probably has.
In a post on Social Media Today, writer Augie Ray observed that Horizon's misadventures graphically demonstrate how the Web has finally evened the odds for customers facing lawsuits from companies:
As Horizon is about to learn the hard way, companies can no longer effectively manage their reputation via legal actions and consumers are no longer at a disadvantage in the face of bullying lawsuits.
Before, if some corporation threatened to haul you into court, the high cost of competent legal representation alone would push you to settle the case. Now, that company is liable to find that the costs of the resulting, Web-fueled bad PR outweigh whatever its litigious thuggery might collect.
Horizon has since attempted to defend itself by issuing a press release reportedly saying that the "sue first" comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, no mold was ever found in Bonnen's apartment, and she had sued it first (its brief filing doesn't mention a prior suit). But Horizon is still having problems with this whole "use the Internet to talk to the public" concept -- the link on its home page to the press release leads to a page featuring only an error message that says: "The system cannot find the file specified."
I suspect things are only going to get worse for this firm. But that doesn't mean other companies can't learn from its example.
Let me spell that lesson out as bluntly as possible to anybody tempted to pull Horizon's kind of stunt: If you're too dumb to understand that sites like Twitter merely make public the things customers already say to each other in private -- and that the only sane response is, at the very least, to act like you're listening to their concerns -- then you're too dumb to be on the Internet in the first place. Go back to watching TV.
July 30, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories: Digital culture
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