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Vigilante Instagram

Discussion in 'Defamation, Libel & Slander' started by Leroyj789, Jul 2, 2020.

  1. Leroyj789

    Leroyj789 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
    New York
    Recently, members (or alumni) of my state university in New York have created an instagram account called @shareyourstoryschool (i will not include the school, so the word school is a placeholder for the name of the school)

    This account’s purpose is to serve as a platform for people to share their rape, harassment and abuse stories. Victim blaming is discouraged. This is supposed to be a safe place for people who felt previously unheard or uncomfortable to share their stories.

    The way the account works is as follows:

    In a google form provided, users can anonymously submit a story that they experienced. They are not directly encouraged to use names and organizations in their stories, but they are welcome to if they do so choose.

    Once the stories are recieved, if they fit the general criteria of being a story of harassment, rape, abuse, etc. they are posted to the account for anyone to view. This account is public.

    As some users choose to share direct names and organizations in their story (the university, residential life, greek life etc to show negligence of action), those stated are being rightfully (or unrightfully) shamed for their alleged actions. Many times, people in the comments tag the university, as well as the alleged organizations involved.

    People and orgs are thusly getting publicly shamed and are being called out as a “call to action” based on these stories. They want people to admit to these actions as well as wanting the organization to do something to hold these people accountable.

    I assume the stated names face tons of damage to their mental health, as well as loss of association with organizations they are apart of etc.

    While it must be very empowering for individuals to share their story with anonymity, these claims quite frankly seem unsubstantiated in the medium which they are being shared. The account does great things to bring sexual violence issues to the forefront, encouraging more action and awareness. Nonetheless, I can’t help but recognize there may be something deeply problematic with this platform as people can be defamed and slandered via anonymous claims.

    My question then is:
    Is this instagram account and the people who run it liable if someone accuses them of libel or defamation of character, and can prove related damages?
     
  2. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    Only if a court determines that they are liable.
     
  3. flyingron

    flyingron Active Member

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    And note that it's not actionable defamation if it was true. That you were exposed for a prior unreported rape doesn't mean that you can prevail with regard to the grief it causes you. Since the site appears to take some editorial behavior in deciding to publish the complaints, they are potentially liable if they publish a false statement either knowing it is false or acting with reckless disregard to its veracity.
     
    hrforme likes this.
  4. PayrollHRGuy

    PayrollHRGuy Well-Known Member

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    Since it sounds like the alleged victim can't be identified I don't see how the "publishers" would have any way to defend against a defamation suit.
     
    hrforme likes this.
  5. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Well...for starters, an "Instagram account" is not a legal entity that can be liable for anything. The people who run the account could be liable if they post something defamatory. Since the process you described has the persons who run the account being actively involved in the screening, editing, selection and actual publishing of the stories, there would not appear to be any question that they could be liable for any defamatory content. Of course, liability for defamation requires more than a mere accusation. And damages may not be required because a false allegation of criminal conduct is typically actionable without actual damages.

    Unless the folks who run this account go to great lengths either to verify the truth of what is being posted or ensure that no one is identifiable, they are utter and complete morons.
     
  6. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    My guess is that the publishers would reveal the identity of the victim and bring the victim to court to testify as to the truth of the publications.
     
  7. PayrollHRGuy

    PayrollHRGuy Well-Known Member

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    That's true if the publishers know the identity of the victims. According to what the OP wrote I don't know that they do.

     
  8. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    You've stated the standard for defamation of a public figure — that the defamer must have acted with malice (knowing that the statement is false or acting with reckless disregard to its truth) . But when suing a private person, malice is not required. For example, in NY state, the courts state that the general elements for a defamation claim are as follows:

    “The elements of a cause of action for defamation are (a) a false statement that tends to expose a person to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, aversion, or disgrace, (b) published without privilege or authorization to a third party, (c) amounting to fault as judged by, at a minimum, a negligence standard, and (d) either causing special harm or constituting defamation per se” (Greenberg v. Spitzer, 155 A.D.3d 27, 41, 62 N.Y.S.3d 372).

    Gugliotta v. Wilson, 168 A.D.3d 817, 818, 92 N.Y.S.3d 309, 311 (2019). As you can see, the minimum fault, i.e. what would be required when the person defamed is not a public person, is ordinary negligence. Thus, it is not required in all cases that there be malice. So I agree that:


     

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