How to Prove Defamation of Character on the Internet

August 31st, 2012

Defamation of character claims can be challenging, but here’s what you need to know about what you have to prove in order to establish internet defamation or defamation of character on the web. In order to show that there is a defamation that has occurred, you have to prove that there was a false statement of fact about you or your business. Now, what is a false statement of fact? A false statement of fact in a defamation claim, whether it’s slander or libel is a statement that can be proven either true or false, or is false by implication.

Welcome to Defamation Law Radio. Internet defamation of character is as easy to perpetuate as a blog post, Facebook update, rating submission, or a forum comment.  Your online reputation is measured by the websites return as Google search results.  Do you know what people are saying and writing about you?

How to prove defamation of character on the internet? It’s a common question that clients who contact us have. When you are the subject of a defamatory, false, disparaging statement that gets posted on the internet let’s face it. It really hurts. It’s personal, because you are being attacked personally, your reputation is being attacked personally and being posted on the World Wide Web.

The internet is a place where anyone can post anything about anyone, and it doesn’t matter to the poster oftentimes whether or not what they are saying is true. They in fact want to hurt you. My name is Defamation Law Attorney Enrico Schaefer, and today we’re going to be talking a little bit about, how do you prove defamation of character when that defamation is posted on the internet?

Now, defamation is a very complex area of law and there are a variety of elements in a defamation claim that you would have to prove if you were ever to file a defamation case in court. So, before you sue someone for defamation of character as a result of an internet posting, you need to understand where the lines are. This could be a very difficult issue because, again, if it’s you and what is said on the internet really makes you look bad, your initial inclination is going to be to want to file a lawsuit for defamation.

Defamation of character claims can be challenging, but here’s what you need to know about what you have to prove in order to establish internet defamation or defamation of character on the web. In order to show that there is a defamation that has occurred, you have to prove that there was a false statement of fact about you or your business. Now, what is a false statement of fact? A false statement of fact in a defamation claim, whether it’s slander or libel is a statement that can be proven either true or false, or is false by implication.

So, let’s take an easy example. If I say that someone was driving in a white car and that I saw them on such and such a date at such and such a time, driving in a white car, that’s something that theoretically can be proven as true or false. Either you were or were not driving at that time in a white car. So that is an easy statement of fact. If I say that you were riding in an ugly car on such and such a date at such and such a time that is not a statement of fact. At least as it relates to whether or not the car was an ugly car.

The statement that a car was ugly is in fact a statement of opinion and is protected as First Amendment freedom of speech. Now, if you say that it was an ugly car and it was on such and such a date and such and such a time and the car was ugly, well it may be false in the sense that you weren’t driving that car on that date and time. But that wouldn’t defamatory either because it doesn’t disparage you. The statement that you were in an ugly car on a certain date and time and you weren’t driving that car on that date and time, the false part of that statement, the date and time, may be a problem in that it is provable as false. But it doesn’t disparage you.

So, not only do you have to establish for a defamation of character claim that a false statement of fact was made about you. But you also have to establish that that is a defamatory statement. It’s one which disparages your reputation. It’s one which an average person would think less of you if they read it or heard it or saw it.

So, these are the things that are really important. Now, ultimately there’s a very complex issue concerning defamation damages and how you go about establishing defamation damages. We’re not going to talk too much about the defamation damages issue today. Consult a defamation law attorney if you want to understand better whether or not you’re going to be able to establish damages against a person who has posted a false statement against you on the internet.

That is a very complicated issue. In certain instances the defamatory statement may be presumed to create damages to you and be characterized as defamation per say. That is a subject for a different day. It’s far more complex.

What you need to understand first, here, is whether or not you have a claim that’s even in the ballpark so that you can either send a defamation threat letter asking them to take down the defamatory content, or to ask the website host to take down the defamatory content. That is an easier issue to get your brain around. Just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s defamation of character. It has to be a false statement of fact which diminishes your reputation.

So, this is very, very important. Defamation law is always very fact specific. That means that each case is different. One of the things that our defamation attorneys will do is an initial assessment so that they can understand better the facts and give you advice as to whether or not you have any leverage under defamation law, because in fact it does qualify potentially as defamation under the statute that applies in your particular state.

So, how to prove defamation of character? Very common question. The first things that you as a client need to be understand are the elements, the base elements that you’re going to have to be able to establish. If in fact you cannot establish that a false statement of fact was made about you, or that even if it’s a false statement of fact that it doesn’t diminish your reputation, you need to know that right out of the gate, because they you’re going to have very few options in terms of moving forward.

That doesn’t say that you can’t have the content removed. A good defamation attorney will give you some strategies to at least give you a chance to have the information removed. But you need to be able to establish the elements of defamation in order to really get the leverage that you need.

Now, as a defamation attorney, one of the early issues that we will always take a look at is the statute of limitations for defamation. If the information has been posted on the internet for a long time and you’re just finding it, there may be a statute of limitation issue where you can no longer establish the defamation claim because you’ve waited too long.

If it’s a defamatory statement that you are just discovering after many years, there may be a tolling of the statute of limitations which will help you out there. The number one lesson that any good defamation law attorney will tell you is that you need to make sure that you act within the time frames allowed under your state defamation law, typically one to two years from the time that the defamatory information is posted on the internet.

My name is Defamation Law Attorney Enrico Schaefer, helping you understand how to prove a defamation of character claim. We’ll see you next time.

You’ve been listening to Defamation Law Radio, where defamation of character, slander, and libel are always the topic of the day.  Whether you are a defamation attorney or a client, we are the number one resource for all your defamation questions.

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2 Responses to “How to Prove Defamation of Character on the Internet”

  1. Defamation on the internet is everywhere. Many websites target business and personal reputation simply to boost traffic and increase advertising dollars. Defamation libel and slander online can be serious business. A bad false post, comment or review can cost you more than reputation. It can cost your business customers.

  2. Business defamation can cost you real money and last forever on the internet. Your character personally is important. Your character professionally is arguably more important. The statute of limitations on defamation libel and slander claims can be short, sometimes 1 year, sometimes 2. So a business targeted by defamatory content needs to act fast.

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