Defamation in Unbounded Spaces

Journalism and social media

Authored by: Diana Bossio , Vittoria Sacco

The Routledge Handbook of Developments in Digital Journalism Studies

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138283053
eBook ISBN: 9781315270449
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315270449-26

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Abstract

Normally a new hairstyle wouldn’t warrant a court summons, but Ziggy Mosslmani was adamant that his hair had made him the target of defamation in the mainstream media. Mosslmani’s choice of a distinctive ‘mullet’ haircut, which was shaved at the sides to showcase long black hair at the back, came to public attention in 2015 when photographer Jeremy Nool posted a photo of Mosslmani at a birthday party on his Facebook page. Over the next months, the post gained some notoriety, with thousands of comments and memes made about Mosslmani’s hairstyle. The memes and comments were shared widely via a number of social media platforms, including through the creation of a new Facebook page called “The Holy Mullet”. While the memes about the hairstyle were mostly the creation of external Facebook users, it was the mainstream media’s reportage on the social media phenomenon and subsequent nationwide attention that drew Mosslmani’s ire. He proceeded with legal action against the mainstream media organizations the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, and radio station KIIS FM, arguing that the attention of journalists, rather than the memes themselves, had made him the subject of ridicule. Underlying Mosslmani’s lawsuit is a particular understanding of journalism’s legitimacy and authority in society. Mockery of Mosslmani’s hairstyle in the mainstream media ‘of record’ is thus much more likely to injure his reputation than a meme on social media – even if that meme is seen by many more people. While Mosslmani could reasonably expect ridicule, mockery, and even contempt as part of the flows of social media communication about his hairstyle, his lawsuit suggests an expectation that journalism’s social authority will mean adherence to more stringent ethical and legal standards.

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