Stokes O'Brien

What Qualifies As Online Defamation?

Posted in Business and Real Estate Litigation on June 15, 2019

Can You Really Sue For Online Defamation?

Believe it or not, online defamation is a valid cause for a lawsuit, and with good reason. With an ever-changing Internet and very little censorship, reputations can be ruined in an instant. In general, defamation is any negative statement that has the power to destroy someone’s character or business potential. Though it’s sometimes hard to prove due to gray areas in terms of fact versus opinion, defamation is punishable in civil court. You can win punitive damages as well as reimbursement for any money you spent on repairing your reputation.

If you’re battling defamatory statements made about you or your business, here’s what you need to know to save your reputation.

Libel VS Slander

It doesn’t matter whether someone makes a damaging statement about you verbally or in writing; both can be a valid reason to sue. A slanderous statement is verbal, while libel applies to written statements.

In terms of online defamation, if someone says a damaging statement about you in a Youtube video, that’s called slander. If a blogger misreports a statement about you and it can cause you to lose business, that qualifies as libel.

Negative And Untrue

Not every negative statement made about a person or business qualifies as defamation. The statement has to be verifiably false.

For instance, if a blogger writes that a restaurant was shut down due to a failed health inspection, the restaurant owners can only sue if they didn’t fail a health inspection that forced them to shut down. If the restaurant was truly forced to close its doors because of health concerns, then the blogger is protected by the fair reporting act. In that case, the negative statement is true, so the blogger can inform the public about it if he wants to.

The Tricky Truth About Statements Of Opinion

If you’re being sued for defamation, the way that your attorney might defend you is by proving that the negative statement you made was not a verifiable fact. If you wrote: “I think Mary abuses her employees,” your lawyer may defend you by saying that the statement was a matter of opinion. “I think” makes the statement an opinion, not fact.

However, the average person can read the statement as fact. The second part of the statement can be viewed as something that can either be verified as fact or dismissed as a lie. Let’s say that Mary’s employees can testify that she never abused them. In that case, the court views your opinion as a verifiable fact that is proven false.

If you’re on the other side of the battle, your business defamation attorney can help you protect your reputation by arguing that a defamatory statement can be proven true or false. This is a valid argument unless the statement clearly expresses individual preference. For example: “John sells ugly clothes” is strictly an opinion. The term ugly is subjective; one person might find the clothes to be ugly, while another might think they’re stylish.

Proving Defamation On The Internet

Claims made on social media or blog sites can spread like a wildfire. One minute a statement is posted, and the next moment comments are made. That being said, online defamation is sometimes hard to prove. Here are some cases when a damaging post can be a challenge to prove:

  • If you can’t identify the publisher of the post
  • If the post was taken down or edited
  • If the post has a small reach online

Truthfully, if a negative claim was made about you online and you can prove it, you have a case. Even if the post is no longer online, printouts or screenshots of the statement are enough to prove your stance. If you can identify who published the post, that helps your case as well.

In some instances, even after a blogger redacts a negative statement made about you, you’re still entitled to some money. You might be reimbursed for legal fees or for any damages that the post caused while it was still up.

Do You Need A Business Defamation Attorney?

If you’re struggling with a loss of business due to a defamatory claim, an online defamation attorney can benefit you. It’s not fair for a reputation to be ruined with a single statement made on the Internet, and you don’t have to fight this alone. Stokes O’Brien is at your service when you need a business lawyer in the San Diego area. Contact us and let us help you with your defamation claim today.