From OJ to the Kardashians

Oct 31, 2017

Clay Carr, Pepperdine student

The definition of a public figure, in today's society, has gotten so muddled that it is hard to identify anymore. It seems as though anyone with an Instagram account and a few followers can be considered a public figure. A perfect example, like you stated in the prompt, is the Kardashian family. If someone could please tell me what any of the Kardashian girls did to become famous, I would love that. This is a perfect example of a public figure who did absolutely nothing to deserve that title. Another interesting spin on the "public figure" is the idea that all you need to have is a social media presence. Instagram quite literally offers a way for its users to purchase followers. So does this mean that for a few hundred dollars you can become a public figure? In my opinion, that is not the case.

A public figure, to me, is someone who has a large following due to achievement. A good looking girl with a bunch of Instagram followers is not a public figure, whereas someone who has worked their ass off to get where they are and make a change in the world is, in fact, a public figure. I'm not oblivious to the fact that not all public figures have obtained that title from positive actions. A public figure can be someone who has a following due to an action or actions, good or bad. For example, everybody knows the name, OJ Simpson. And what for?....For killing hiswife and getting away with it!! You can argue whether or not he actually committed the crime, but the one thing that cannot be denied is that everybody knows his name, making him a public figure. Not all public figures are well known for bad reasons. A public figure that means a lot to me is Michael Jordan. Michael is most well known for completely taking the basketball world by storm. He is an incredible athlete, a positive influence for young people, an artist, and a fantastic businessman. Just like we always talk about when we review court cases in class, it's all about the kids, and Jordan is such a positive role model for all kids. For me, a public figure can be defined as someone who is in the public eye due to an action, good or bad. With that being said, the ideal public figure will always be someone who is recognized for a positive impact they make in this world.


Clay Carr, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Fall 2017 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the prompt:

As you've been reading cases this week, you may have noticed that the rules for defamation are different for private and public figures. That's why tabloids can get away with saying crazy things about the Kardashians, even though we know they're just a made-up family who is not actually biologically related. But the world is changing. More and more people are gaining recognition as influencers on social media. Brand companies are now targeting micro-influencers to push product as people tend to trust recommendations from their friends instead of people with huge followings. All of this is to say that it seems that what constitutes as a public figure today is not the same as what would constitute as a public figure 20 years ago. But obviously, not everyone with a twitter account is a public figure… or are they? Where do we draw a line? Define a public figure.

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