Since its launch in 2010, over 16 billion photos have been shared on Instagram. But one in particular from user @Imreallyaniceguy (The Game to you) stands out from the rest. The image has recently landed him in trouble with the Los Angeles Superior Court. Earlier this summer The Game (whose birth name is Jayceon Taylor) made the ultimate social media faux pas. He posted a photo of former babysitter, Karen Monroe and stated that she was “busted having sex with her then boyfriend and leaving a used condom and the wrapper in his daughter’s room.” He further warned his 1.1 million followers to take caution because she was a dangerous babysitter.
The photo coupled with the comments led Karen Monroe to file a lawsuit last week in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming defamation. Defamation is any intentional false communication, either written or spoken that harms a person’s reputation. Under California law (Cal. Civ. Code §44, 45a and 46), the elements of a defamation claim are: i). publication of a statement of fact, ii). that is false, iii). unprivileged, iv). has a natural tendency to injure or which causes “special damage” and v). the defendant’s fault in publishing the statements amount to at least negligence. Monroe will have to prove all of these elements to succeed on her claim.
Luckily, Taylor has a number of legal defenses at his disposal to fight the suit. In particular, California courts recognize opinion and truth as defenses to defamation suits. In regards to the opinion defense, the US Constitution protects the right to voice opinion and criticize others. If Taylor can demonstrate that his statements were merely statements of opinion as opposed to statements of fact, he could succeed on the suit. It is worth noting that courts are generally more likely to consider comments made on social media platforms as statements of opinion as opposed to statements of facts. In regards to the truth defense, if Taylor can demonstrate that the statements he made were actually true, he will be free and clear.
Monroe claims that since Taylor’s Instagram posting, she has received numerous death threats and has also experienced bouts of depression. Not only has she lost her job but she claims she has been blackballed from working in the industry. She is seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages. This isn’t Taylor’s first stint with defamation law. Last year a North Carolina court awarded five police officers with $1 million each in damages on claims of defamation against the rapper.
With the surge of social media (it’s now the #1 activity on the web), social media defamation is becoming a regular occurrence. This suit, however, marks the first Instagram defamation lawsuit. This lawsuit begs the question – should celebrities be held legally accountable for the potentially harmful postings they make on such sites as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? Or does this lawsuit take it too far and stifle free speech?
With the Season 2 premiere of “Marrying the Game” on the horizon, expect to see just as much drama unfolding in the courtroom as on the television screen.
Jaia Thomas is a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment attorney. Her multi-faceted practice covers all segments of the entertainment industry, including: television, film, music and new media. A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, she is a graduate of Colgate University (BA), The George Washington University Law School and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. For more information: www.jathomaslaw.com or @jaiathomaslaw.