Last Updated on January 12, 2022 by David Baddeley
Online defamation laws are complex. If you aren’t clear on what constitutes defamation online, you could get yourself into a lot of trouble. Governments are becoming more concerned with making the internet a “safe space” for users, so internet defamation prosecutions are becoming more common.
Something said in the heat of the moment can turn into a lawsuit if you’re not careful. A lawsuit can have devastating consequences, especially if you are a business owner or social media personality with a large audience.
This article offers an easy guide to understanding online defamation laws.
Online defamation is legally defined as a statement that’s made on the internet with the intention of damaging a person’s reputation or business. The reason that online defamation is treated so severely by the courts is that in today’s highly digitized world, being slandered online can have devastating consequences for a person’s online. A person can lose friends, family, and their job because of defamation, particularly if it pertains to social justice issues, such as race, gender, and religion. In most U.S. states, it is only required that a slanderous statement be seen by one person other than the statement’s maker in order for it to become a criminal offence.
Statements of Fact
When it comes to online slander, one cannot claim slander if the ‘defamatory statement’ is actually true. This means that if a person claims that your business does not take its hygiene seriously, and evidence appears to prove this to be the case, then you cannot claim defamation against the person. Unfortunately, when it comes to internet defamation laws, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the person making the statement is lying. If you cannot prove that the person’s statement is not fact, then you may have trouble claiming defamation.
Defamation claims cannot be brought if they are a person’s opinion. One’s opinion is privileged under the law. This means that if they word their statement in a way that looks to be their opinion, you cannot take them to court. With that said, if they begin making statements that are obviously false then later claim them to be their opinion, you may have a case against them. If they don’t specify that something is their personal opinion, it could count as defamation. This is particularly true if they are making pointed statements that don’t appear as opinions, but instead appear to be facts.
Modified photos created with a view to scandalize a person count as defamation. If you have found a person posting altered photographs of you or your business that show you in a negative light, even if the person claims they are entirely humorous, you are entitled to take them to court. Altered photos can be very damaging to a person’s reputation. If a person is spreading fake images, clients may not do business with you. Modifications of your posts on social media also count. If a person alters an image of your social media account with text or images that you have not posted, then that counts as defamation.
Lies and embellishments also count as defamation. If a person is making accusatory statements about you or is exaggerating about interactions with you, then they can be held liable for defamation. Embellishments are particularly common when it comes to reviews. If a person is unhappy with your service, they might post things that aren’t true. These lies could seriously impact your business, leading to a reduction in customers. If you notice any reviews that include exaggerations or embellishments, you should contact the website hosting them to ask to have them removed.
The punishments for defamation vary from state to state, and country to country. In some places, a person found guilty of cyber defamation can be sentenced to a period of imprisonment. In other places, a person can be sentenced to community service and may have to pay a fine. A fine is by far the most common sentence issued to people guilty of internet defamation. It is also possible to take a person to court and to sue them privately.
Lawsuits are usually taken out in conjunction with legal action. If a person is found guilty in court, then most lawyers would advise further action in civil court. It is very important that you push for maximum punishment, to deter other people from trying to slander you and others online in the future.
Internet defamation can be very damaging to a person’s character. If you have been slandered online, then you need to take action. If you allow a person to spread lies about you, you embolden them to do the same thing to others.