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Could renter's tweet cost $350 a character?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 27, 2009 - Amanda Bonnen of Chicago would tweet about the kinds of things a lot of people babble about on Twitter: The hockey playoffs, the Cubs, drinking, friends, "wardrobe malfunctions" and her moldy apartment. It was the complaint about the apartment that got her in trouble.

"You should just come anyway," she wrote a friend May 12 on the social networking site. "Who said that sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon Realty thinks it's okay."

Horizon didn't think the tweet was okay and on July 20 filed a $50,000 defamation suit against Bonnen in Cook County. Horizon said that before the tweet, it was "deservedly held in high esteem" by its renters and the general public.

Because Bonnen's Twitter account, with its 20 followers, was open to the public, she published false and malicious statements about the company to the world, Horizon claimed.

Horizon may be right that the world will hear about the dubious air in its apartments. News organizations from here to Australia were picking up the story this week. But it will be the company's lawsuit, not Bonnen's tweet, that spreads the word.

William H. Freivogel is director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Previously, he worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 34 years, serving as assistant Washington Bureau Chief and deputy editorial editor. He covered the U.S. Supreme Court while in Washington. He is a graduate of Kirkwood High School, Stanford University and Washington University Law School. He is a member of the Missouri Bar.