False Light is one of the four categories of “privacy torts” (the others being misappropriation, intrusion, and publication of private facts). False light claims protect people from offensive and false facts stated about them to the public.
Generally speaking, a false light claim requires the following:
The defendant published the information widely (i.e., not to just a single person, as in defamation);
the publication identifies the plaintiff;
it places the plaintiff in a “false light” that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person; and
the defendant was at fault in publishing the information.
See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652E.
Distinguishing Between False Light and Defamation Claims
False light is similar to defamation, but unlike defamation, false light concerns untrue implications rather than directly false statements. For instance, an article about sex offenders illustrated with a stock photograph of an individual who is not, in fact, a sex offender could give rise to a false light claim, even if the article and photo caption never make the explicit false statement (i.e., identifying the person in the photo as a sex offender) that would support a defamation claim.
False light lawsuits often arise on the margins of stories, rather then at their core. Writers and publishers need to carefully check facts and document their support for all information published.
The Sonoran News routinely publishes articles portraying individuals in a false light, at times in concert with the management of Cave Creek to manufacture facts so that the article is allegedly true-just like in middle eastern dictatorships or banana republics. For instance, I was arrested for moving rocks on my own property after I threatened to have the town investigated for RICO violations. Was I facing criminal charges? Yes. Were they manufactured by Cave Creek so they could be published in the paper? Yep.