What is defamation?  It is the act of harming or injuring the reputation of another person, by sharing a false statement to a third party. There are two forms of defamation: libel and slander. Libel is when that statement is reduced to writing, which includes pictures, words and videos on the Internet.  Slander is the spoken word.

A defamatory statement attacks someone’s character or accuses a person of an act that may be considered unethical, immoral, or unspeakable. There are several essential elements of defamation:

  1. The statement must be a defamatory statement (causing injury to one’s reputation)
  2. Must be a statement of fact
  3. Must be a false statement
  4. Must be published to a third person (shared with another person)
  5. Must cause injury or harm to the person

With the rise of social media and self-publishing tools, the ability to create content and comment on others content is as easy as clicking your mouse.  Social networking is fun, fast-paced, and easy to do, and it allows us to say things in the heat of the moment, without regard to the consequences.  Defamation occurs when we don’t think before we click.

In fact, just as intellectual property applications have increased due to the spread of COVID-19, so has the number defamation lawsuits. Visitors of restaurants are using Twitter to rant about the lack of physical distancing. Even news articles are being published with subjective COVID-19 accusations, impacting businesses and personal reputations.

Often these suits arise, because it’s difficult to distinguish between a statement that is an opinion and a statement of fact. To rise to the level of defamation, the statement must be a statement of fact.  There are no grounds for defamation if the statement is merely one’s opinion.  The challenge is knowing the difference.  So this author’s suggestion is

  1. Be mindful of what you say on any social media site.
  2. If a statement can be construed as a statement of fact, make sure you can prove that it is true.
  3. If you are stating your opinion, be sure that is clear, and state that it’s your opinion.

The internet is a great place to give and take information, but at the same time provides another outlet for defamation claims to arise. Being truthful or clear that you are merely stating your opinion can help avoid these problems.

Until next time, I’m Francine D. Ward, reminding you to protect your assets!

Francine D. Ward headshot

Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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