By Lynn Hatter
Florida lawmakers will consider a proposal to re-write rules around who is considered a public figure, and what circumstances would constitute a defamation claim against media outlets. The proposals are raising concerns about their constitutionality and whether they violate free speech rights.
Intentional defamation or negligence?
Rep. Alex Andrade (R, Pensacola) brought up the case of Nicholas Sandman. In 2017, the then 16-year-old was in Washington D.C. when he and a group of his peers encountered protestors. A viral social media video showed Sandmann wearing a MAGA hat and standing in front of Native American elder Nathan Phillips and appearing to smile. Phillips told reporters that Sandmann had blocked his path. Sandmann said he was standing still to defuse the situation. The incident was widely covered by national news outlets and the 16-year-old received backlash. He later sued several media outlets for defamation. He lost some cases and settled others—most notably, with the Washington Post. Sandmann was not a public figure before this moment and Andrade says Sandmann never should have been thrust into such a public spotlight.