If 2016 was the year of “fake news,” then 2017 is going to be a year of “fake news” litigation.
Laura Hunter, a model and commercial actress, filed suit this week in Las Vegas, accusing a conservative site of stealing her name and image to create a fake online persona. Hunter lives in Seattle and is politically left-of-center, according to her attorney, Marc Randazza. But to readers of the Conservative Daily Review, she was a conservative firebrand from Tennessee who wanted nothing more than “to spread the word about true patriotism” and “put the Bill of Rights back on its rightly throne.”
On Facebook, “Hunter” posts a steady stream of pro-Trump commentary — such as “The left refuses to stop with their protest and defiance” and “CNN is about to pay for their lies and defamation!” — with links to stories on the Conservative Daily Review and the Conservative Daily Post. The account has nearly a million followers.
“You can imagine if you’re a left-leaning person and you wake up to your friends calling you and saying, ‘Why are you a spokesman for the Conservative Daily Review?,’ you’re not going to be very pleased,” Randazza said.
The lawsuit, first reported by Courthouse News, states that Hunter was contacted last fall by Mike Powell, who runs an internet marketing company in Las Vegas called Gravitas Works. Powell emailed to ask if he could get permission for a client to use Hunter’s headshot, though he did not identify the client or state why he wanted the photo, the suit states. Hunter did not give her permission, and asked him to call. He didn’t, but emailed back sometime later and admitted that the client had already used the photo, Hunter claims. The lawsuit states that Powell again tried to get permission to use the photo, but she refused.
Hunter later discovered that her real name and photo were being used to promote stories on the conservative site.
“They have stolen her identity and used her as a spokeswoman for and purported author of content and viewpoints antithetical to her own beliefs,” the lawsuit states.
Powell and others associated with Gravitas Works did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The Conservative Daily Post has attracted the attention of fact-checkers and debunkers. One headline, “Breaking: FBI Confirms Evidence of Huge Underground Clinton Sex Network” was rated a “pants on fire” lie by PolitiFact. Snopes debunked several CDP stories last year, describing the site as “notoriously unreliable.”
According to Hunter’s lawsuit, the defendants published job postings for writers of “conservative fan fiction” who could write “stories that are not real, but very well could be.”
“From what I’ve seen this is simply a money-making scheme,” Randazza said.
After the lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, Hunter’s image was removed from the Facebook page and replaced with a cartoon. The site continues to use her name.
In addition to being a commercial actress, Hunter is a professional photographer who takes pictures at beauty pageants. She was also crowned “Ms. World” in 2016 in a pageant for women over the age of 26. According to the suit, Hunter has suffered damage to her reputation and a loss of business due to the fake conservative account.