Gawker media, the multimillion dollar blogging network responsible for such sites as Kotaku, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik and LifeHacker, is facing a $100 million invasion-of-privacy lawsuit from none other than wrestling icon Hulk Hogan. After publishing an allegedly secretly-recorded video of Hogan engaging in private acts of an intimate nature, Gawker received a cease and desist, which they ignored, before being served a full-blown suit.
At the heart of this story is not a tit-for-tat war between tabloid-style journalism and nearly-forgotten cultural stars, but rather the message that content creators and publishers should be cautious of the materials they share, even when the potential victim is someone as seemingly vulnerable as Mr. Hogan.
While the jury is still not quite out on the trial’s outcome, the potentially company-shuttering result of Gawker losing the lawsuit should serve as a warning to those who might underestimate media targets and overstep bounds of “good taste” into legitimate tort territory.
You Picked the Wrong Fight, Brother!
“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” they say, and perhaps no one was as big or fell as hard in the eyes of the public as Terry Gene Bollea, better known by his ring name as Hulk Hogan.
Chances are if you existed on planet Earth any time in the past 40 years, the name “Hulk Hogan” conjures up some of the cozier memories of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Hulk Hogan’s in-ring shtick was so popular that it helped transform the growing WWF (now WWE) from a Northeastern territory promotion to an international entertainment franchise. Hogan graced the screen with his immortal performance as “Thunderlips” in Rocky III, and he is personally responsible for multiple generations of adolescent boys needlessly tearing off their T-shirts. His legacy lives on in references from modern shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Yet, all that came to a crashing halt as Hogan aged. Like many other entertainers, he fought to maintain relevance, resorting to reality TV shows and unusual endorsements. Yet, the persona had become so larger than life by then that it overtook Bollea’s image. He is Hulk Hogan now, to the point where he appeared in trial for the Gawker suit in his most formal black skullcap and sporting his trademark bleach blond handlebar moustache.
This cartoon-like personality wrongly convinced people like former Gawker editor Albert J. Daulerio that the man was safe to be mocked without restraint. Quoted from the New York Times:
“‘I was very enthusiastic about writing about it,’ Mr. Daulerio said. He explained that he had ‘enjoyed watching the video’ and was eager to attach his commentary to it on the site.
[…]“‘You didn’t really care, did you?’ Mr. Mirell [Hogan’s Lawyer] suggested.
“‘No,’ Mr. Daulerio said.”
Daulerio’s unremorseful behavior could potentially cost Gawker many hundreds of jobs and put the squeeze on their ability continue operations in general. While few in this instance are apt to rush to Hogan’s aid, the equally-unadmirable defense response has not been winning Gawker fans — least of all, perhaps, on the jury.
Trust the Pros, and Avoid Having Someone “Hulk Out” on You
Our point in raising this issue is not to drag Gawker through the mud as they are in some ways being accused of doing themselves, but rather to iterate an important lesson: Businesses that publish content must be extremely cautious when touching upon sensitive issues that could extend beyond readership considerations. Libel, defamation, emotional distress and other torts could easily be filed in instances where unowned content is shared or topics are framed in certain inflammatory ways.
The only ways to be perfectly safe when publishing content that may tread a grey area is to have each post vetted by a legal team or to entrust a professional content writing and digital marketing service like EverSpark Interactive. By taking steps to remove liability and entrusting experienced individuals to make judgement calls, the risk of having a prosecuting legal team come and tear off their shirts in an intimidating display is greatly lessened.