Define defamation of character

Over recent times there have been several high profile cases involving alleged and proven defamation of character. The growth of social media has had a substantial influence on defamation too; nowadays most of us are authors of one kind or another whether it is on Twitter, Facebook, blogs or simply comments that we post on websites. We all must take care that we do not to fall into the minefield of defaming others.

Similarly today we are far more likely to become victims of character defamation, which may have a serious impact on our personal and professional reputation, not to mention the potential damage to our businesses. Below we explore what constitutes defamation of character and what you can do if you are accused of it or you fall victim to it.

What is defamation of character?

Unfortunately there isn’t a simple explanation to what constitutes defamation. However, there have been some broad explanations in law that may be useful to consider: Any written or spoken content that:

  • May discredit the person
  • May lower the person’s reputation amongst others.
  • May cause the person or business to be avoided by others
  • May cause the person or business to be subject to hatred, violence or ridicule.

In a nutshell, anything you say or write about another person or a business, that falls loosely in one of the above (but not limited by) and as witnessed by a third party may be considered defamation.

As you might expect, it’s a bit of a grey area and there is no single complete legal definition of defamation, however if the information is false and reduces the reputation of an individual or business to right thinking others, then it is generally considered to be defamatory, especially if this can be proven.

Written defamation is usually referred to as libel, and is easier to prove, while spoken defamation is known as slander, and relies on either witnesses or other auditory proof such as recordings.

Words can be defamatory both by what they actually say and by what they infer. The inference could be false innuendo, where ordinary people might read between the lines of what is said, or true innuendo, which are true words but are still considered as damaging should the reader already have additional information.  

What is the difference between slander and libel?

Slander is generally when the defamatory comments are spoken, but it can also refer to photographs and cartoons.

Libel is when the untruths are broadcast in any publication, for instance in a magazine, on a website, in an email, a book, newspaper, or film.

Note that spoken abuse, however rude it might be, that does not generally affect the reputation of an individual is not considered to be defamatory.

Am I a victim of defamation of character?

If lies about you have appeared about you or your business on social media, a website or in print, or in the case of slander they had been spoken, and you reasonably believe that your reputation has suffered as a result, then potentially you are a victim of defamation of character and you have a claim against the author, the publisher, and anyone else involved in the publication.

You will need to be able to show that "right thinking people" would also consider that your reputation had been damaged; that the information had been communicated to at least one other person, and that the comments have identified or implicated either you or your business.

In a case of business defamation, you would also need to be able to show actual or potential financial loss.

I have been accused of defamation, how can I defend against it?

Your first line of defence would be to show that the statements you made were true. You can also claim that your statements were in the public interest or were fair comment. New rules will apply from the beginning of 2014, so read below how these might affect you.

It can be a complex issue, so it is advisable to seek legal advice. 

What are the new regulations on defamation?

There are new defamation law reforms coming into effect from the beginning of 2014 that will have an important impact on what people are allowed to post on the web (see more here).

The new regulations are designed to balance out the right to freedom of expressions and the protection of reputation. They also provide a mechanism for resolving disputes about information published online, especially on comments made by others, by holding website publishers responsible as well as the originator of the comments. 

Other people have posted potentially defamatory comments on my website. Am I responsible?

Yes, website operators will, as off 2014, be responsible for defamatory comments that have been posted on their website by others; however they can avoid this by following the correct procedures after receiving a complaint. One of our defamation solicitors may be able to help you if you are in such a situation.

What do I do next?

Defamation claims are made through the High Court and if you wish to either bring a claim or defend against one, then you should contact a solicitor who is experienced in dealing with defamation claims, as the UK law is rather entangled and would most definitely require a specialist to look at. If you are interested in talking to a defamation solicitor then we suggest you speak to one of our local QualitySolicitors with experience in collaborative law who can help make the process as quick and simple as possible.

Not only will we answer your queries but will provide you with a continuous update and you don’t have to worry about hidden costs.

QualitySolicitors are changing the way you see lawyers. We promise direct lawyer contactFree First Adviceno hidden-costs, same day response and Saturday openings.


Posted in: Litigation

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