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Going Viral: Limited-Purpose Public Figures, Involuntary Public Figures, and Viral Media Content
Communication Law and Policy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2022-03-04, DOI: 10.1080/10811680.2021.2014297
Derigan Silver, Loryn Rumsey

Abstract

Viral content on the internet has become part of our everyday lives. It has even made its way into defamation litigation. This article explores how viral content is changing the legal definition of limited-purpose and involuntary public figures. The article argues that courts should not consider having access to social media alone as having “access to media” under the test for deciding when an individual is a limited-purpose public figure. Additionally, courts should focus the analysis on determining whether plaintiffs voluntarily injected themselves into a controversy to sway public opinion or to resolve the controversy either via the viral content or with other behavior. More importantly, we argue courts should no longer recognize involuntary public figures. Although some authors have suggested that in the age of the internet it makes sense to require more individuals to prove actual malice, we suggest courts should use a lower standard for some individuals to better compensate for injury to reputation.