On Friday, YouTube announced changes to its video recommendation algorithm in an effort to “reduc[e] recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness.” YouTube committed to “tak[e] a closer look at how we can reduce the spread of content that comes close to—but doesn’t quite cross the line of—violating our Community Guidelines.”
The latest development in one of the three pending defamation cases brought by families of Sandy Hook shooting victims against Alex Jones is an accusation against Jones (and his associate company, Infowars LLC) of intentional destruction of evidence relevant to the case after written notice of the preservation obligations.
This week, the French parliament will debate proposed legislation that is designed to stop what it calls the “manipulation of information” and what is colloquially referred to as “fake news.” What differentiates this bill from similar ones currently under consideration by other countries, however, is that it would change the rules for speech in the time leading up to elections.
Sometimes it seems like defamation is just an effort to keep someone from saying something unflattering—but the right to protect one’s reputation pre-dates the Constitution as a right on par with that of freedom of the press. Indeed, Professor Thomas G. West observes that “some founding documents add the right to reputation (or the ‘right to character’)” as a full-fledged natural right. Thomas G. West, The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom 34 (2017). He lists the right to “acquiring and protecting reputation” along with other natural rights that are famously enshrined in the Bill of Rights—like the rights to free speech and a free press.
After filing suit last year against several researchers and an academic journal for publishing a paper (the “C17 paper”) that disagreed with his own, engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson has dropped his suit. In an FAQ document posted on his website, Jacobson defended his original claim, saying that he did not file the suit simply because he disagreed with the scientific conclusions in the C17 paper, but because the paper contained false factual statements upon which its conclusion relied.
In a decision is sure to assuage the concerns of those engaged in conducting internal investigations, the 11th Circuit ruled last month that the law firm authors of an investigative report on the culture within a professional sports team were not liable for defamation related to the report’s negative findings and opinions about one of the team’s coaches. The dismissal of the suit relied on two key holdings. First, the report’s negative conclusions were protected opinions. Second, the coach failed to make plausible allegations of actual malice required for defamation of a public figure.
In what appears to be a novel application of defamation law to disputes within the academic community, one researcher has filed suit against a peer reviewer and an academic journal for criticism made in a peer review article of his work. The plaintiff, Mark Z. Jacobson, is an engineering professor at a large research university. He alleges, in a complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court on September 29, 2017, that the criticism of his work included false and misleading statements amounting to defamation. Those statements include criticism of Jacobson’s computer modeling—which, according to the complaint, is particularly damaging to Jacobson’s career because it is centered on that very topic. Jacobson also alleges that the publication violated its publication guidelines and breached its contract with Jacobson. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.
Earlier this year, ABC News, through its parent company, reached a midtrial settlement with Beef Products Inc. in the now infamous “pink slime” lawsuit. Under South Dakota food libel statutes, damages in the case could have reached as much as $5.7 billion. Despite resolving the dispute with Beef Products, ABC News is back in court—this time to resolve a related coverage dispute with one of its insurers.