By Harry Styron
I have been slimed on the internet by accusations that were completely false, and I don’t like it one bit (I say “don’t” rather than “didn’t” because the false statements are still there for all who look). The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri has indicated that an old legal doctrine (the tort of “false light invasion of privacy”) can be applied to intentional statements on the internet that falsely make a private person look bad.
The opinion, dated December 23, 2008, was in the case Meyerkord v. The Zipatoni Company, which involved the situation of Meyerkord, a former Zipatoni employee, who was listed on a website for web domain registrations, after he was no longer employed by Zipatoni. Meyerkord claimed that his name on the registration was associated with a web domain “www.alliwantforxmasisapsp.com” that received a huge amount of criticism from consumers and bloggers who had strong feelings about that site’s take on Sony Playstations. Meyerkord said that Zipatoni was negligent in not removing his name from the registration, which he had nothing to do with.
The Court of Appeals wrote “[A]s a result of accessibility to the internet, the barriers to generating publicity are quickly and inexpensively surmounted.” Now, at least in the Eastern District of Missouri, courts will recognize false light invasion of privacy claims, if the person posting the statements on the internet (or another public medium) knew or had a good idea that the statements would put another person in a false light and it would be reasonable to assume that the false light created by the publication would be highly offensive to the person placed in that light.
Under the right facts, a court could order that the offensive information be removed from a current posting on the internet. There are available archives of the internet as it existed at moments in the past, so there’s unlikely to be a way to remove something completely. But it is nice to have a way to fight back.
One who gives publicity to a matter concerning another that places the otherbefore the public in a false light is subject to liability to the other for invasion ofhis privacy, if(a)the false light in which the other was placed would be highly offensiveto a reasonable person, and(b)the actor had knowledge of or acted in reckless disregard as to thefalsity of the publicized matter and the false light in which the otherwould be placed.
58. Moreover, the ethical standards regarding theacceptability of certain discourse have been diminished. Id. Thus, as the ability to do harmgrows, we believe so must the law’s ab