How Does the Court Decide Whether Something is Defamatory?

traverselegal - May 9, 2014 - Defamation Law

As a defamation attorney specializing in internet and online slander and libel issues, it is important to advise the client of many of the nuances of defamation law.   How does the trial court decide whether or not the statements are defamatory?  Typically, it is the function of the trial court to determine in the first instance whether the communication complained of is capable of a defamatory meaning.  If the court determines that the communication is capable of a defamatory meaning, then it becomes the jury’s function to decide whether it is so understood by those who read it.  A statement is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another so as to lower him or her in the estimation of the community or deter third persons from associating or dealing with him or her.   In determining whether or not a statement on the internet is defamatory, the court must decide whether the communication complained of can fairly and reasonably be construed to have libelous meaning ascribed to it by the party.  In making the determination upon the meaning of the article, it must be construed as a whole and each word must be read in context of all other words.  The test is the effect the article is fairly calculated to produce the impression it would naturally in gender in the minds of average persons among whom it is intended to circulate.  The words must be given by judges and juries the same significance that other people are likely to attribute to them.

The first step in any online or social media defamation case is to make sure that the essential elements of an internet defamation claim can be sustained.  Defendants typically file a Motion to Dismiss or a Motion for Anti-SLAPP Violations in the first instance.  So you have to get over that first hurdle if you ever want to see a jury.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Enrico Schaefer, who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a practicing Business, IP, and Technology Law litigation attorney.