Defamation Dissected: 5 Critical Concepts Everyone Should Understand About Defamation

February 22, 2024

Picture: Tim Gouw / Unsplash

Defamation is a type of communication that can injure the reputation of an individual, group, business, or similar. In the legal world, saying something untrue or misleading about a person or business can be grounds for legal action through a skilled defamation lawyer.

However, defamation can be complex. The more you understand about these critical defamation concepts below, the more confident you might be to navigate a defamation claim:

You Can Be Defamed Online

While defamation is common in newspapers, in person, and in magazines, you can also be defamed online. Social media and other online platforms are rife with false information. If someone publishes incorrect information about you online that results in harm, you may have enough evidence to sue for defamation.

Fortunately, there are several actions you can take when managing social media defamation. You can:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Collect evidence for a defamation lawsuit
  3. Get help from a defamation lawyer
  4. Send a cease and desist letter
  5. Refute the claims publicly
  6. Sue for damages

You Must Prove Specific Elements

You can’t take legal action just because you believe someone defamed you. You must be able to prove it. In most states, statements you claim as defamation must:

  • Be false
  • Cause harm
  • Be communicated to a third party

Depending on the jurisdiction, there must also be some fault or negligence associated with the person making the defaming statements. These elements are necessary to ensure that any defamation claims you make in a legal setting will be successful.

Opinions Aren’t Facts

We have the right to form opinions about anything we like. That doesn’t make them facts. This is where defamation cases get tricky. Our opinions are normally protected under free speech laws. They are also not considered defamatory.

As a result, you can say that you believe a business has the worst customer service in town, and that’s your opinion. However, if you were to release a statement saying that a particular business does have the worst customer service in town, that may be viewed as fact. If it’s not true, that may be classed as defamation.

There’s a Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a period of time in which you can initiate legal proceedings. What that period is depends on the crime or perceived crime. Regarding defamation, you generally only have one to three years, depending on where you live and the type of defamation it is.

Once that time period passes, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to bring a case against someone you believe defamed you, your group, or your business.

Damages Can Be Economic and Reputational

Setting the record straight can be reason enough to consider filing a defamation lawsuit. However, you can also experience economic and reputational damage. For example, rumors spread about an actor might limit their chances of securing more work. If they can’t secure more work, they are at risk of financial loss.

What you can receive as a settlement for a successful case can depend on just how significant your losses are. While normally in the tens of thousands, they can also be in the millions. According to The New York Times, Fox News settled a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million after Dominion Voting Systems accused Fox News of pushing harmful conspiracy theories.

The average defamation lawsuit can be complex. Understanding these critical concepts above may help you approach a defamation lawyer confidently and hold someone guilty of defamation to account.


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