It’s not defamation if it’s true.

How often have we heard the war cry of the eternally butt hurt upon reading something about themselves that they dislike? “That’s defamation” or “It’s libel” or “That’s slander” usually followed by the threat of a law suit. I’d like to take a closer look at what’s become a growing internet phenomenon and have a brief common sense chat, starting with simple definitions of the terms involved.

Slander – The action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.

Libel – A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation.

Defamation  – A false accusation of an offense or a malicious misrepresentation of someone’s words or actions

Slander must contain some kind of statement of fact to be considered slanderous. However, it is not slander if it’s demonstrably true. For instance, if I say Cheri is a gutter slut, that may be considered slanderous. However, if I say she is a syphilitic whore that would not be slander as it is demonstrably true. (For the record, Cheri is neither a gutter slut nor a syphilitic whore, but she does make one hell of a pot roast. )

Parody is also not defamation. Comedy is not considered slanderous. It’s called comedy and, although it may not be your brand of funny, it’s still comedy. Some comedy greats pull a poe, such as Stephen Colbert, and it’s a long time-honored tradition. This would also include most tongue-in-cheek “how to” guides you’ll  find all over the internet, as well cheeky criticisms and debates.

You can argue defamation charges with “the facts are a matter of public interest” but, unfortunately, that doesn’t stand up well. For example, if someone were to accuse Amazon of human sex trafficking and say they were withholding evidence for the press, this would be one hell of a mess resulting in ongoing investigations. Probably not of Amazon, who would be cooperative, but of the individual and all known associates making such a claim. Again, this defence will not hold up well in a court of law and such matters are to be avoided at all costs.

If someone makes an untrue accusation about you, obviously you can sue them. In all due probability this will be a civil not criminal charge, as above. Courts are a messy business. Think well before you get involved with this process. Once started, it is difficult to extract yourself from such proceedings. Courts like evidence and tend to side with the person who has it. Bear in mind, it’s not just an issue of burden of proof. It’s only defamation if it’s not true.

For example, Cheri says that I am Joan of Arc. She says this in public places all over the internet and swears that she can prove it. As I am not Joan of Arc, I can sue her. If I do, I will win. She will owe costs and damages incurred as determined by a court of law. She may also be liable for legal fees. (For the record, Cheri does not think I am Joan of Arc. That would be silly. She knows I’m Rorschach from the Watchmen.)

However, if someone says something about you that’s true, it’s not defamation. Furthermore, if you already have an established reputation supporting it, the burden of proof (having been met) is no longer.  If your reputation  is already bad there are no damages, either, as you were damaged before the statements were ever made.

Many times, the defamation letters one might receive are not legitimate. They threaten that if you do not comply with their instructions they will sue you. Usually such letters have no grounds or valid claims but don’t ignore them. Check to see where it comes from and what it actually says. If what you say is true, then you cannot be successfully sued for defamation of character. However, impersonating an officer of the court is not looked upon lightly, and you should report any letters that bear no legitimacy.

Defamation rests on the establishment of truth and law suits should be avoided as they are costly, difficult to prove and even harder to win. Unless your reputation is stellar and you know for a fact the person (or an investigation into the matter) cannot possibly prove anything stated is correct, I would not recommend even beginning such a matter.

This information is not to be considered a replacement for the advice of legal counsel and is expressed with the intenton of creating discussion. For legal advice, please consult an attorney. 

4 thoughts on “It’s not defamation if it’s true.

  1. My previous boss never paid my super. True. If i told someone. Slander?? I dont think so. Lesson learnt at my expense.

  2. “However, if someone says something about you that's true, it's not defamation. Furthermore, if you already have an established reputation supporting it, the burden of proof (having been met) is no longer. If your reputation is already bad there are no damages, either, as you were damaged before the statements were ever made.”

    Bingo.

  3. Admit guilt then call it slander when someone tells someone what you did? HAHAHHAHAHAHAH Court Record. YOU SAID YOU WERE GUILTY AS CHARGED – IDIOT. And you were…. Evidence…..

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