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If a company or journalist known for publishing non-satirical news was to stray from their normal reporting on April fools day, and publish something like;

"Amazon hit with ransomware, customer credit card information leaked on the dark web"

And the body of the article develops a long-winded and fictitious ransomware event at Amazon, but at the very end of the article includes a "Happy April Fools Day!" line, would that exempt them from any liability from financial or reputational loss on behalf of Amazon as a result of their joke?

Example of potential financial or reputational damage; let's say that as a result of such a joke;

  1. Amazon support gets overloaded by customers asking about the hack/ransomware.
  2. Customers contact their banking institution and cancel cards, potentially causing financial damages to Amazon for services/products that weren't paid for as a result.

In my mind, that could cause financial damages to Amazon, and reputational damages, that could potentially fall under something like tortious interference.

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  • 1
    It’s funny if everyone laughs. Nobody at Amazon would laugh at this. “It’s a joke” is something bullies say all the time. Trying to bully Amazon seems like a bad idea.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 10:37
  • In the United States, this is plainly protected speech under the First Amendment.
    – bdb484
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 19:52
  • That doesn’t mean Amazon can’t sue them and make it expensive.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 13:55

1 Answer 1

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This is a form of libel. Libel is not protected by the first amendment. The exact laws vary by state. Quoting https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/defamation , libel law is typically as follows:

To prove prima facie defamation, a plaintiff must show four things:

  1. a false statement purporting to be fact;
  2. publication or communication of that statement to a third person;
  3. fault amounting to at least negligence;
  4. damages, or some harm caused to the reputation of the person or entity who is the subject of the statement.

#1 would be covered by the statement itself, assuming the publication lacked proper disclaimers.
#2 is trivially satisfied.
#3 is debatable; providing sufficient hinting that the article is parody would perhaps be enough to argue against negligence, depending on context.
#4 would require showing harm (e.g., increased support tickets, fewer Amazon orders, etc.).

Unsurprisingly, the answer would depend heavily on context.

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  • Note that: "the very end of the article includes a 'Happy April Fools Day!' line", so #1 might arguably not "be covered by the statement itself". I think arguing that #1 is "covered by the statement itself" requires asserting (not without reason) that the average reader doesn't read to the end of the article and maybe that the author knew that or at least should know that. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:16
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    @BenHocking: I think in that scenario #1 would still be covered (the statement itself is false), but "happy april fools" might be sufficient to argue the fault was not "at least negligence" (#3). But this sort of thing would probably be better understood by a lawyer.
    – Brian
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 20:53
  • Fair enough. IANAL. I do work with requirements disambiguation, and I'm painfully aware of how ambiguous natural* language can be. *As opposed to a formal, constructed language. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 12:21

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