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What are the basics of defamation?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2022 | Defamation

Defamation is a term that includes the acts of either libel or slander. In these, someone has to either write or speak a statement that damages another person’s reputation in some way. While each situation may differ, there are general guidelines to satisfy in determining a case for defamation.

Required stipulations

There are a few stipulations for having a successful claim in a defamation lawsuit. They include:

  • Someone has to write or say and publish a statement about you.
  • That statement was untrue and caused injury to your reputation or livelihood.
  • The information is not considered privileged.

Important considerations in determining possible defamation

It’s important to note that an essential facet is that the untrue statement was made with an intent to cause harm to the other person. If, for example, a news outlet publishes an article with a typo or inaccurate information due to either an editing or sourcing error, it would be challenging to prove intended malice. This is why it’s common to see incorrect information corrected and either a footnote added to an article or a retraction issued by the news publication.

Another vital determination is if the statement ends up being true. If it is indeed a fact, it by definition is not defamatory.

In addition, opinions do not fall under possible defamatory statements since they are not arguing for or against an item of fact. Opinions or criticism of public officials such as celebrities or government officials require a higher standard in proving defamation to a court. That’s because someone being a known figure and not a private individual is expected to be the subject of discussion in the media.

Legal background of defamation cases

There are many popular legal rulings surrounding defamation such as libel or slander. They include cases such as:

  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan: determined that there must be actual malice and not just inaccurate information and that the first amendment protects certain statements about public figures.
  • Hustler Magazine v. Falwell: determined that since Jerry Falwell was a public figure and the purported defamatory ad was labeled as a parody, the magazine was protected via the first amendment.
  • Zeran v. America Online, Inc.: determined that Internet service providers could not be held liable for defamatory statements of their users.

The United States Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights also protect free speech of opinions and critique against public figures such as elected officials.