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Can We Ever Successfully Sue ChatGPT For Defamation?

2 min read

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A radio host is suing ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI for defamation, claiming that the AI chatbot erroneously named him in a lawsuit and falsely accused him of embezzlement.

Mark Walters, a radio host for a conservative channel in Georgia, USA, filed a lawsuit in the state early today. He alleges that one of ChatGPT’s most recent “hallucinations” has damaged his reputation, and is seeking “various forms of relief,” including “the recovery of misappropriated funds” as well as damages.

What’s up with Walters?

The story begins with an article written by a journalist named Fried Riehl. Riehl was writing a news story, and he went to ChatGPT and asked the chatbot to summarise the case of The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) v. Robert Ferguson. The case, which was filed in March this year, concerned the alleged abuse of power by Washington State Attorney General Robert Ferguson.

Riehl asked ChatGPT for a summary of the lawsuit, and according to Walters’ claims, ChatGPT responded that the document:

“[I]s a legal complaint filed by Alan Gottlieb, the founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), against Mark Walters, who is accused of defrauding and embezzling funds from the SAF,”

“The complaint alleges that Walters, who served as the organisation’s treasurer and chief financial officer, misappropriated funds for personal expenses without authorization or reimbursement, manipulated financial records and bank statements to conceal his activities, and failed to provide accurate and timely financial reports and disclosures to the SAF’s leadership…”

ChatGPT insisted it’s right

However, Mark Walters is not affiliated with the SAF in any way. A search of the 30-page lawsuit also makes no mention of his name. Riehl even asked ChatGPT to clarify the information in relation to Walters, and the chatbot allegedly doubled down on its claims. 

Walters’ lawsuit describes ChatGPT’s response as “a complete fabrication,” and “bears no resemblance to the actual complaint, including an erroneous case number.” 

“ChatGPT’s allegations concerning Walters were false and malicious, expressed in print, writing, pictures, or signs, tending to injure Walter’s reputation and exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule,” the lawsuit further reads.

ChatGPT and defamation

The case with Walters is not the first of its kind. Here in Australia, a mayor from regional Victoria, Brian Hood, said early this year that he planned to sue OpenAI for defamation.

Hood’s case is similar to Walters’. The mayor claims that he is wrongly named as a guilty party in a corruption case, but in actuality, he was the whistleblower, not the guilty party.

In Walters’ case, Riehl’s article was never published. However, according to Gizmodo, Walters’ lawyers remained that ChatGPT’s alleged fabrications could harm the radio host by “exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”

Could fabrications generated by ChatGPT ever constitute defamation? We shall have to wait and see how this lawsuit pans out.