The decision by PhoneDog Media to sue one of its former employees for $340,000 over his Twitter account was branded “school yard bullying” yesterday.
PhoneDog is claiming $2.50 per Twitter follower per month for eight months against technology journalist Noah Kravitz, 38, who now works as editor at large for TechnoBuffalo.
Previously TechnoBuffalo had stayed silent on the row but now its president Jon Rettinger has issued a statement saying that the company stands firmly behind Noah over this “frivolous suit PhoneDog has filed,” and adding: “This equates to school yard bullying, and should be met with disgust by the world.”Kravitz took 17,000 Twitter followers with him when he left PhoneDog and said he had permission to do so by his former employers.
However matters seem to have turned sour when Kravitz sued the company for back pay and a share of advertising revenue he said he was entitled to.
Writing in the TechnoBuffalo website he said:
“For the past twelve months or so I’ve been engaged in an unfortunate dispute with a former employer. We had – still have, really – a dispute over a contract and back wages.
“I decided from the get-go not to speak publicly about it; there was no need to air my dirty laundry in public, let alone try to capitalize on it by putting negative energy out into the world.
“My fight with them has been a frustrating and saddening one but also a private matter, and my job is to talk about consumer electronics and the digital lifestyle, not who owes me how much over what contracts.
But now things are different. A year later I’m being sued for $340,000 and the rights to use a Twitter account.
The suit attempts, amongst other things, to place a monetary value on the worth of an individual follower of a social media account.
“Human being or spambot, you’re all worth two bucks and fifty cents. Per month. Just for fun, multiply $2.50 by @ladygaga and her 17,355,730* Little Monsters. I’ll do it for you: $43,389,325.00 USD. That’s 43 million dollars per month, rounded down. I wonder how many countries on Earth, let alone private corporations, generate that kind of monthly revenue?”
Noah’s case – far from being a minor employment dispute – is being heralded as a landmark social media test case which could have ramifications the world over.
He added: “Social media is a grey zone to many even as it shapes the world around us. The pixel-drawn lines between what’s “personal” and “professional” have been blurred so quickly that it’s falling upon cases like this one to literally make the rules regarding the rights of employees, work-for-hire contractors, and corporations, let alone journalists and public figures, when it comes to the names and contents of our social media accounts.
“This could affect the future – all of our future – and that’s the only reason it’s worth writing about. What was once about a great partnership gone bad has transformed into a matter that literally could write the laws that govern how tens of millions of people communicate with one another.”
Explaining why he liked using Twitter he said: “What’s so alluring and powerful about social media is the potential for dialogue and direct one-on-one and one-to-many conversations.
“It’s all about choice. I choose what to tweet, you choose who to follow. And vice-versa. My personality can come out, you can call me on my mistakes, and I can engage with you – or not. It’s instantaneous, it’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s addictive.”
Jon Rettinger’s statement in full.
From Jon Rettinger, President of TechnoBuffalo LLC
As many of you are aware, TechnoBuffalo’s Editor-at-Large Noah Kravitz is currently engaged in a legal dispute with his former employer PhoneDog Media (PhoneDog) regarding ownership of his Twitter account. PhoneDog is suing Noah based on their valuation of his Twitter followers at the time he stopped working for them: $2.50 per month per follower for eight months, totaling $340,000.
I have remained silent on the issue, privately supporting Noah, hoping that this issue would be resolved. However, further reflection and consultation has made me realize the time for silence is over. TechnoBuffalo is a news outlet, and this situation quite clearly has become news. We stand firmly behind Noah, disagree with the frivolous suit PhoneDog has filed, and hope swift justice will be served. This equates to school yard bullying, and should be met with disgust by the world. We stand behind our employees as we would family. Noah has the full support of the Herd. I urge you all to speak up!
President, TechnoBuffalo LLC