Political Tumblrs: An Opportunity to talk about “False Light”
I have to give my wife credit. She is Emily Zanotti of Naked DC who created this highly addictive internet meme “Hey Girl, it’s Paul Ryan” on tumblr. At least this gives me the opportunity to discuss an area of tort law that is often overlooked. Invasion of Privacy, false light. No, this internet meme does not constitute “false light”. However, it is very good example of how a tumblr could become false light.
Invasion of privacy is a very broad tort, it is not just invading someone’s private life and publishing the information. Believe it or not, false light is just one of four types of invasion of privacy.
In general a false light tort has four elements
- A publication by the Defendant about the Plaintiff,
- made with actual malice,
- which places the Plaintiff in a false light; AND
- that would be highly offensive
Notice that the information in the publication does not have to be false, it can be as true as the theory of relativity, it can still be considered false light if it meets the four elements. One example I use when I train reporters is a hypothetical situation involving a Lindsay Lohan type character. She is photographed with powder on her face that looks like cocaine but is actually white powder make up that was accidentally spilt. The photo is then published with the headline “(Insert Name) is whacked out on crack”. The headline combined with the picture could place the defendant in a false light.
Now, can you see how this could work with an internet meme? That picture could be used with a whole number of headlines to the point where it could become a meme unto itself. So, when posting internet memes, just beware of this tort lying in the background. The benefit of doing this about politicians is since they are public figures, it is much more difficult to prove actual malice.