There are times when another person says or writes something about another person that harms that person’s reputation. This is commonly called “defamation of character.” However, there are two different types of defamation of character. Written defamation is called libel, while spoken defamation is called slander. It’s important to understand the laws regarding slander, especially if someone is trying to ruin your reputation with falsities.
Defamation of character is not a crime. A person will not go to jail. However, it is a “tort” or civil wrong. This means that if a person/organization makes defamatory statements, the person affected may seek compensation for their damages as a result of the defamation, through a personal injury lawsuit.
In the past, the distinction between libel and slander was easier to make, but with the increase in internet usage and social media, the line between the two has become blurred. Generally, the law now looks at the permanence of the defamatory statement. For example, a post on a social media site (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is technically a written statement, but due to these post’s transient nature, they are more like spoken statements. Conversely, a podcast may be spoken at first, but be more like a written statement because it is archived and can be pulled up at any time.
Why is it important to establish whether libel or slander has been committed? Because, establishing damages will depend on the permanence of the defamatory statement. The more potentially harmful the statement is to the plaintiff, the more compensation they’re likely to receive.
How to prove slander
If a person believes they have been defamed, to prove it they generally need to show that the statement in question is all of the following:
- Published: Here, published does not necessarily mean it was printed or written online. This means that a third party heard or saw the statement. This can be in a book, TV, leaflets, radio, gossip, social media, or a loud conversation.
- False: If the statement is not false, it cannot be considered damaging. For example, you might write that someone is a murderer and harm their reputation, but if they are, in fact, a convicted murderer, this is not defamation. Most opinions are not defamation, as they cannot be proven objectively false.
- Injurious: The statement made must have caused losses. This can include a person losing work, being shunned by family, friends, or neighbors, or harassed by others. Someone with an already terrible reputation would suffer from less “injuries” than another person.
- Unprivileged: This means that if a statement is considered privileged, it cannot be considered defamatory, even if it is false. This includes statements made by witnesses who testify in court or give a deposition as well as statements made by lawmakers in the legislative chamber or in official materials.
What kind of damages are available for slander?
There are several types of damages that are available if a person is successful in a defamation lawsuit. This can include compensation for:
- Actual damages: These are damages that are quantifiable and are meant to restore the injured party to the position they would have been in had the defamation not occurred. This can include all financial losses the plaintiff suffered, including lost income, lost earning capacity, and more.
- Non-economic damages: This can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and anxiety.
- Punitive damages: These are designed to punish the person who made the defamatory statement, especially if their conduct was especially egregious.