The Unrelenting Darkness of False Light: A Sui Generis Tort
In at least some instances, bathing another in a false light is a serious matter; it damages the victim’s reputation and standing in the community, thereby causing painful interior turmoil. It is a wrong, and—in at least some instances—is appropriately made tortious. But what kind of tort is it; how can we most felicitously reason about it? In an influential article, William L. Prosser categorizes false light as a privacy tort—one of four. Others, including Wade L. Robison, have subsequently accepted this classification. I do not. I argue that a false light attack could be initiated, and fully perpetrated, without the perpetrator’s taking any action sensibly deemed an intrusion into the victim’s private affairs. This distinguishes it from the other three, which are genuine privacy torts. Additionally, arguments which treat false light as a privacy tort become contorted, counterintuitive, even paradoxical. Clarity dispels this confusion, when once we conceive of false light as a sui generis tort.
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