Last month, actor James Woods (above) filed a $10 million defamation law suit in Los Angeles Superior Court after an anonymous Twitter user named “AbeListed” who—after responding to Woods’s tweets regarding President Barack Obama and Caitlyn Jenner—tweeted to his followers that Woods was a “cocaine addict.” (As of today @AbeListed had well over 2,000 followers; it’s unclear how many the user had when the “cocaine” tweet occurred.) This tweet came after previous tweets that allegedly came from @AbeListed that called Woods a “prick” and a “ridiculous scum clown-boy.” As The Hollywood Reporter correctly pointed out, in order for Woods’s case to succeed, he would have to prove actual malice on the part of whomever is behind @AbeListed, and since Woods can be considered a public figure, the malice standard would be set quite high.
Regardless, this case once again reveals how social media can be biased against reflective thought; how it can—because of the ease with which tweets can be tapped out and because of the ubiquity of mobile devices—quickly be put to uses that are far from desirable. We have, of course, covered such things before: the case involving the satirical newspaper and website The Onion; and the less offensive case involving fashion powerhouse Valentino. Yet this case is another reminder that we should, as St. Augustine urged us, to “think before we talk.” As we start a new semester, that is very sound advice. Let us, when we communicate with one another, whether in person, over Twitter, or what have you, endeavor to treat one another with dignity and respect. As we do so, we will participate in living the good life—the embodiment of human goodness.