On February 14 of this year, a disturbed individual entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He took out a gun and opened fire, murdering 17 people.
Following this tragedy, the website Infowars.com published an article about the shooter. The headline read, “Reported Florida Shooter Dressed as a Communist, Supported ISIS.” The article was accompanied by a photo of Marcel Fontaine—a Massachusetts resident who had never been to Florida and had nothing to do with the shooting. In the photo, Mr. Fontaine was wearing a novelty T-shirt displaying cartoon images of historical communist party leaders.
The implication that Mr. Fontaine was somehow linked to the mass shooting has led to serious consequences. He has suffered from targeted harassment and threats from all over the world. He fears for his safety. Even though the lie has since been debunked, many InfoWars fans continue to believe there is a conspiracy of which Mr. Fontaine is a part. Mr. Fontaine has filed a lawsuit against InfoWars for defamation.
Defamation on the internet has become an increasingly common form of cybercrime. More than ever, people are sharing click bait stories online with the primary goal of boosting traffic to a website. Whether the content is factually accurate is irrelevant. Cyber-defamation can occur with statements that are false and defamatory as well as with images that have been modified to mislead public—and consequently tarnish and individual’s reputation.
If you have been the victim of false statements on the internet that have damaged your image or put your safety at risk, it’s important to consult with an experienced cybercrime attorney to understand your recourse.