What is Defamation?
Spreading a rumor, talking trash, or gossiping might seem pretty harmless, but if your Hater-Aid has the power to injure the reputation another, you could find yourself in some serious legal trouble.
Most jurisdictions define defamation as “an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation.” Businesses, products, groups, governments, and even nations can be vulnerable to derogatory statements from someone’s loose lips or poison pen.
What is the Difference Between Slander and Libel?
In layman’s terms, if a false statement of fact is spoken, it’s slander. If it’s written, it’s libel.
Defamation: It’s A statement of Fact, Jack!
Let’s say you know a girl named Melissa who has blonde curly locks. You know that Melissa is a natural blonde because she had that same hair color when the two of you were in kindergarten together.
But, now that you’re older, you don’t like Melissa. To express your dislike, you decide to tell everyone, for a fact, that Melissa is not a natural blonde. If people believe you and Melissa suffers real consequences as a result of the rumor — like losing her job at Blondes-R-Us or getting kicked out the Natural Blonde Business Association — she can sue you for slander. If you tweet your rumor, post it on Facebook, or proclaim it on your Youtube channel, Melissa can sue for libel.
But if you say, tweet or broadcast that you think Melissa is that other word for a female dog, she can’t really do anything. Why is that?
Not Defamation? Matters of Opinion.
While calling Melissa the “b-word” is immature, and certainly insulting, you don’t literally mean that she is a member of the species canis lupus familiarus. You did not intend for someone to interpret your statement as a fact, so it’s not defamatory.
Opinion is often cited as a defense in defamation cases because, while facts are easy to prove or disprove, opinion is just a reflection of one’s attitude and outlook.
What About Truth? Is It A Valid Defense For Defamation?
Let’s go back to Melissa. Say that Melissa was in fact an employee of Brunettes-R-Us, and a member of the Brunette Business Council. If you flamed her in an Internet post and revealed that she was actually a blonde, you’d be safe, because a statement is not defamatory if it is found to be truthful and accurate.
Everywhere you turn these days, it seems like there’s news about one party defaming another party on the Internet. Celebrities are being sued for questionable tweets and many small business owners have experienced the financial hardships that often go hand-in-hand with online defamation.