Social media and video-sharing sites have introduced the concept of “micro-celebrity,” a person who attains fame – rapidly, and potentially fleetingly – among a niche audience of internet users for doing something colorful. As with anyone who participates in the sometimes sharp-elbowed give-and-take of online discourse, these niche celebrities are increasingly being drawn into controversies that can result in litigation. For nearly 60 years, the Supreme Court’s Sullivan standard has afforded critics an extra measure of breathing space when they comment on the conduct of “public” personalities –people with outsized influence, and the ability to defend themselves effectively through counterspeech. The question courts increasingly will be forced to reckon with is: What does it mean to be “public” in an era when otherwise-obscure people can become “internet famous” overnight?

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