What Is Defamation?

Defamation is defined as any intentional statement that harms or injures someone’s reputation. These statements decrease the respect or regard of someone. Defamation includes hostile and disparaging opinions about a person. This harm can either be in the form of libel or slander. Libel is a written or published defamatory statement. Slander is a type of defamation that is spoken by the defendant. Defamation law protects people when someone’s words end up causing harm to another’s reputation or livelihood.

Types Of Defamation

Libel: Libel is a written defamatory statement. The most common place where libel is encountered today is social media. Libel can also be found in public comments on websites or blogs, blog posts. Libel is an untruth about someone intended to do harm to that person. Opinions, true statements, and some criticism cannot be considered forms of libel. The offending statement must be fact based.

Slander: Slander is a spoken or oral defamatory statement when someone tells an untruth about someone to a third party. Slander is considered a more “temporary” form of defamation since it is not written or published. The exception can be a radio or television broadcast since it generally reaches a large audience. The offending statement must be fact based.

An example of a defamatory statement may be an accusation made against a public official. It could be a claim that they took a bribe or committed a crime, assuming the allegation is presented as fact. Another example would be a claim of “police brutality,” if nothing occurred. Allegations of adultery or other sexual misconduct may be considered defamatory if they are false.

How to Prove Defamation

To have a successful defamation case, you will need to prove three things:

  • That the statement is false
  • That the statement was made knowingly or recklessly
  • That the statement was published

The first and most important thing in a defamation suit is proving that the statement made was false. If the statement is true, no matter how ugly it is, the truth is an absolute defense to a defamation action or suit.

You will also need to prove that the person who said the comment knew that the statement was false or showed “reckless regard” for whether the statement was true or not.

The false statement also must be published. Common examples of publication would be posting online, especially on social media. Other places could be a newspaper or magazine, or on a news broadcast.

If you can prove these three things, a court will presume that you have suffered damages without any showing of harm, and you could receive compensation for losses. To be entitled to what are referred to as “punitive damages,” (damages intended to make an example of the person that made the statement), you need to show that the statement was made with the intention of causing harm, which can be more difficult to prove.
Defamation is often harder to prove for a public figure, such as a politician or celebrity. In a public role there is always a presumption that, since you are in the public eye, various statements (usually opinions) will constantly be made about you. People who place themselves in the public domain are more likely to be exposed to questionable statements, and it becomes harder for them to make a successful defamation claim.

In today’s world, the constant presence of everyone on social media and other online content makes it difficult to draw the line between opinion and defamatory speech. Not everything posted online is automatically deemed opinion, but at times there can be a fine line between opinion and fact. This area of the law is constantly evolving. If you feel that you have been a victim of any of the above examples, speak to an attorney today. The attorneys at Davison, Eastman, Muñoz, Paone in Freehold, NJ can help you understand and build a defamation case.