In an age where nearly everyone has a platform via social media, the line between individuals’ rights to freedom of speech and others’ rights to defend their reputations is blurring. Many people think they can send anything they want out into the internet without consequence, but that’s simply not true. If you find yourself unfairly and publicly denigrated, there are five basic criteria that must be met for your defamation case to go forward.
1. The Statement Is Expressed
To prove defamation, you must identify the person(s) responsible for slandering you in speech or libeling you in written form. Generally, libel is considered more severe than slander because historically, spoken word dissipates more quickly than a printed record. According to the late Michael Jackson’s entertainment attorney, John Branca, damages are exacerbated when the victim is a public figure wrongly accused of a crime.
2. The Statement Is Published
To be considered “published” a declaration doesn’t necessarily have to appear in print. The content in question simply must be seen, read or heard by a third party. Examples of published statements could include those you view in a YouTube video, hear in a Podcast or see written on the side of a building.
3. The Statement Is Untrue
For speech to be considered defamatory, it must in fact be false. If someone states a fact about you that harms your reputation but is ultimately decided to be true, you have no legal right to damages in civil court.
4. The Statement Is Unprivileged
Some speech is privileged, meaning it occurs under circumstances that warrant protection and cannot be considered for defamation litigation. For example, if someone were to lie about you during trial testimony, their statements would be protected and you would not be able to take legal action against them. Only unprivileged assertions are eligible for a lawsuit.
5. The Statement Is Harmful
For a defamation claim to prevail, the statement must be proven to have caused injury to the reputation of the plaintiff. If you can show evidence of lost business, public shaming or harm to important relationships, then you may be able to meet the burden of proof. However, if your reputation was subpar prior to the offending statement being made, then you may not be awarded much in damages.
Consider your rights before you let someone with a keyboard and a vendetta tarnish your good name.