Many people believe that when they write something on a website, blog, or message board, that they are truly “anonymous” and have a free pass to say anything they want. This feeling of anonymity sometimes leads people to post false statements in an effort to discredit another individual or harm their reputation. People who post false statements about someone else on a website or blog are often surprised when they learn they have been sued for defamation.
What is defamation?
Defamation is the communication of a false claim or statement of fact about another person that harms his or her reputation. This statement does not need to be made to a large group of people; you can be liable even if you make the statement to just one other person (other than the person the statement is about). There are two types of defamation. The first is libel or written defamation, including things written on Internet websites, blogs and message boards. The second is slander or spoken defamation.
What is a “false statement of fact”?
A false statement of fact is a false statement that can be proven true or false – such as “John stole my computer from my house,” or “Mary had an affair with the boss to get her promotion” – and which a reasonable person, in the context provided, would understand as being asserted as a true and verifiable statement. Obviously, if a statement is true, it cannot be defamatory.
Opinions, even if they reflect negatively on someone, are protected by the First Amendment and are not defamatory. However, just calling a false statement of fact an opinion is not enough to gain First Amendment protection. For instance, if you say, “Based on the evidence, in my opinion, it’s clear that John stole my computer from my house,” then a court mind determine that, because you were backing up your statement with evidence, that you were actually making a statement of fact. If that statement is false and hurts John’s reputation, then you could still be liable for defamation.
What should I do if I am sued for defamation for a statement I made or would like to bring forth litigation for defamatory statements made against me?
We can help. The basics of defamation law are the same for online defamation as they are for normal written or spoken defamation, but there are also technical and legal issues specific to online defamation. It is helpful to have an attorney who understands the technical issues surrounding the use of defamation on the internet, such as IP address retrieval,the Communications Decency Act, ISP provider responsibilities, etc. Saper Law attorneys have experience dealing with all forms of defamation. Additionally, we have experience in assisting clients with online reputation management and have defended victims in revenge porn litigation.
Contact us today for a confidential consultation.