Eriq Gardner, over at the Hollywood Reporter was the first of a few sites to post the story of how actor James Woods is ridiculously suing a trollish Twitter user for $10 million, arguing that a single tweet from this guy, Abe List, who had all of 2,000ish followers, somehow hurt Woods’ reputation. This is not just hard to believe, but it seems to be dipping into flat out SLAPP territory. The full filing is worth reading, and suggests that maybe, just maybe, Woods needs a hobby (and slightly thicker skin). At issue is the Twitter user who goes by the name “Abe List.” Whoever that is appears to be a slightly annoying/trollish Twitter user, who particularly delighted in annoying conservatives on Twitter. A few weeks ago, Woods made a bizarre and slightly nonsensical tweet involving Caitlyn Jenner and Planned Parenthood (don’t ask), and Abe List shot back with:
“@RealJamesWoods @benshapiro cocaine addict James Woods still sniffing and spouting.”
— Abe List (@abelist) July 15, 2015
There are a few other historical tweets from Abe List mocking Woods, including one from December calling him a “clown-boy.” Clown-boy is clearly not defamatory. The question here is if “cocaine addict” is defamatory. It is a statement of fact, and if it’s not actually true, it could potentially be defamatory, but that’s hardly the end of the story. As a very public person, Woods would have to show that whoever is behind “Abe List” published the claim “with actual malice.” And “hey, I don’t like James Woods and think he’s a clown boy with stupid views” is hardly “actual malice.” It would mean that Abe List either knew it was false and tweeted it anyway, or had “reckless disregard for the truth.” That seems unlikely to hold up.
Furthermore, it’s fairly clear that, given the context — both Twitter and Abe List’s usual tweets that the tweet that so concerns Woods is, at best, hyperbolic mocking on the internet, which wouldn’t be defamation either.
And here’s the real kicker in all of this: this was a random @reply tweet from a user with around 2000 followers (2,276 when I took a screenshot of his account, right before he took it down entirely). If you’re not familiar with how @replies work, if you start a tweet with @username, the only people who will see it directly in their timelines are those who follow both users. That is, the only people who would have seen that tweet show up are people who happen to follow both @RealJamesWoods and @abelist. That venn diagram is likely to be tiny and well less than the 2,276 followers of @abelist. It’s possible that if someone opened Woods’ original tweet to see how others responded then some of them might have also seen the @abelist tweet — but the likely number is tiny. And, of course, the only people who would have taken it seriously are idiots. It’s pretty clearly just someone spouting off, as people are known to do on the internet.
And, yet, rather than letting this tweet fade into obscurity, as it normally would, Woods has decided to sue for $10 million, apparently based on the idea that lots of people actually saw this tweet (they didn’t), and that they were likely to believe such a throwaway claim (which they wouldn’t). And the end result is that many, many, many, many more people are not only seeing this tweet and (perhaps for the first time) wondering about whether or not Woods has a cocaine habit, but are also learning that Woods appears to have a ridiculously thin skin — such that he’s upset by the fact that some nobody on the internet called him “clown-boy.”
Woods’ claims arise out of and are for damages with respect to a false and defamatory statement which was initially published on or about July 15, 2015 by an unidentified anonymous person who created and who operates a Twitter account under the name “Abe List” (the “AL Twitter Account”). The owner of the AL Twitter Account has thousands of followers and, since at least December 2014, has undertaken to engage his followers with a campaign of childish name-calling targeted at Woods. In the past, AL has referred to Woods with such derogatory terms as “prick,” “joke,” “ridiculous,” “scum” and “clown-boy.”
These are, in fact, mostly childish. But, that’s not illegal. We can all say that James Woods is a ridiculous, prick, clown-boy for suing people on Twitter, and it’s not defamatory. In fact, as Ken “Popehat” White points out, the above section actually undermines any case Woods might have, by adding in more context about how Abe List is a trollish Twitter user looking to provoke people he doesn’t like. And again, the “thousands” of followers is only true in the “very barely” sense, and the idea that more than a few of those saw the tweet in question is unlikely (again, they need to be followers of both individuals and actually read all their tweets.
But Woods and his lawyer don’t seem to have the first clue about how Twitter works. To make the case that more people saw this, Woods is arguing that if you did a Google search on “Abe List James Woods” that tweet would show up along with the one calling Woods “a ridiculous scum clown-boy.”
Of course, these days, I’m sure lots of other stuff comes up.
Woods presents zero evidence that anyone, other than James Woods himself (and his lawyers) was busily googling “Abe List James Woods” and yet, he somehow claims that this is evidence that “hundreds of thousands” of people may have seen the tweet.
AL published, and/or caused to be published or authorized to be published, the False Statement on the AL Twitter Account and in current (as of the date of this Complaint) Google.com search engine results, causing the False Statement to be viewed thousands of times and possibly even hundreds of thousands of times
And that’s based on what appears to be a near total cluelessness about how Twitter, Google and the internet work. What a clown-boy.
So, not only does this ridiculous lawsuit drive much more attention to the various insults, and even the possibly false statement, it also could open up Woods to a pretty significant anti-SLAPP ruling. We’ve covered many times how California has a strong anti-SLAPP law that lets people quickly respond when it’s clear that the only reason they’re being sued is to shut them up. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law, whoever is behind Abe List may be able to not just get the case tossed out quickly, but get Woods to pay for his lawyers. What a ridiculous clown-boy move by Woods and his lawyers.