Florida court mulls newsworthiness in Hogan v. Gawker sex tape trial

Monday marks the second week of the privacy trial pitting former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan against the popular online pop culture website Gawker.

Hogan sued Gawker for publishing a video of the celebrity having sex with his friend’s girlfriend. However, Gawker claims the video was newsworthy because of Hogan’s celebrity status and his previous open discussion of his sex life. The question of newsworthiness matters because the privacy claim of publication of private facts is barred if a court deems the publication is newsworthy (or as courts sometimes call it, “of a legitimate public concern”).

In an article for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ magazine The News Media and the Law, I explored the question of how courts define newsworthiness. The article, Courts wrestle with defining newsworthiness in privacy cases, points out the various factors typically considered by courts. They are as follows:

  • Does the information relate to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community?
  • What is the social value of publishing the information?
  • How far did the publication intrude into the private life of the subject?
  • What is the subject’s status in the community? Did the subject voluntarily assume a position of public notoriety?
  • Is there a connection between the information disclosed and the newsworthiness of the person or event involved in the publication?
  • Not a legal consideration but a recognition of the reality of jury trials – What are the community standards and jury composition?

Here are some articles covering the first week of the trial:

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Article on Elonis case and online speech featured on The Interdisciplinary Internet Institute

On June 1 the United States Supreme Court decided Elonis v. United States, arguably the most anticipated First Amendment case of the 2015 term. The case had the eye of average citizens as well as First Amendment attorneys and scholars because of its potential impact on one of the most popular social media applications in the country—Facebook. Leading up to the case I wrote on MLonML about the potential stakes of Elonis in a post previewing the case and a post detailing its place in the overall landscape of the 2015 Supreme Court term.

Many saw the Elonis case as a chance for the Supreme Court to address the true threats doctrine in light of modern online communications. Instead, the Court adjudicated the case based on statutory interpretation. I discussed the Court’s conclusion in Elonis and the questions left unanswered in an article featured on the Interdisciplinary Internet Institute titled, “Elonis case decided by U.S. Supreme Court leaves lingering questions for online speech.”