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Sued for a tweet: How not to deal with complaints on Twitter

A Chicago firm finds that filing a $50,000 suit against a tenant who tweeted about mold brings some unwanted publicity.

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Before this week, few knew anything about Amanda Bonnen and her alleged mold problem, or much of anything about Horizon Group Management and their apartments. Now, a local complaint made via a tweet has turned into a national issue – with lessons for both Twitterers and companies targeted by tweets.

Ms. Bonnen tweeted in May about mold in her Chicago apartment, and Horizon Group Management answered with a $50,000 defamation lawsuit. News of the suit sped around the Internet Monday after a Chicago blogger caught wind of the complaint.

The social media lesson here? Yes, Twitterers should be careful what they write, especially if their account isn't private, experts say. But, they add, companies should also be careful how they respond to a negative tweet – handling it badly could result in a public relations nightmare.

"Now, everyone is going to think that Horizon has moldy apartments even though their intention of bringing the complaint was to say they didn't," says San Francisco attorney Colette Vogele, who specializes in legal issues surrounding technology and new media.

"There could have been a way to solve this that didn't make it go viral," says Ms. Vogele.

Here's what Bonnen wrote on the microblogging site: "Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it's okay."

Horizon, which denied there was mold, said it's suing because that one tweet could be heard around the world. Bonnen had only 17 people following her tweets on the microblogging site, but she had a public account that could be viewed by anyone searching for her comments.

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