Is Truth a Valid Defense to a Claim of Internet Defamation?

traverselegal - December 20, 2011 - Defamation Law, Truth as a Defense to a Defamation Claim

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?

Welcome to Defamation Law Radio, my name is Enrico Schaefer, and I am an internet law attorney at Traverse Legal, PLC.  We specialize in Internet law and online defamation.  Today, we are going to be talking about defending against bogus claims of defamation, and specifically, defamation that occurs on the Internet.

So, here’s the scenario.  You have been accused of defaming someone online and believe that the person is going to come after you.  You need to understand a couple of things here.  Number one, you want to avoid a defamation claim in court – a defamation lawsuit – at all costs.  Sometimes, people get so emotional about these types of claims because, let’s face it, it’s about the person’s reputation, and they feel violated.  You’ve posted something on a forum, a ratings site, your blog, or your website, about someone that you believe is appropriate, or perhaps, you even made it an emotional moment, but now you think this person’s going to come after you.  In many instances, you can’t even have the comment or post removed from the internet because you are not the website operator, you have posted it someone else’s website.

So, you believe a claim of defamation is coming.  First rule, you need to try to avoid a claim being filed against you at all costs because once a lawsuit claiming defamation is filed against you, it is very difficult and very expensive to remove yourself from that process. The key here is that you want to defend yourself, and you want to educate the other side as to why you will win and prevail if they should file a lawsuit claiming defamation of character against you.

So, let’s say that you receive a threat letter alleging defamation on the Internet, and they’re threatening that if you don’t do x, y and z, that they are going to sue you for defamation.  The first thing that you need to do is take the threat letter for defamation seriously because if you ignore it, you may increase the chance that person will then go to a defamation lawsuit and you’re going to be in a whole different level of trouble at that point.

Many times, the defamation threat letters that are sent are not legitimate. They do not state a valid claim for defamation.  So, today, we want to talk about one of the primary defenses to a claim of defamation of character on the internet, which is going to be Internet libel because it is written, Ok?  And that first defense, the first one that you want to be able to rely on, is truth.  Yes, truth is a valid defense against a claim of Internet defamation.  If what you say is true, then you cannot be successfully sued for defamation of character.

So, is the statement that you made true?  Now this is going to get into an analysis of whether or not what you stated is a statement of opinion or statement of fact or somewhere in between.  If it is a statement of opinion (you believed that it was true and it is an opinion that you’re stating), then you’re going to be fine because it’s not a false statement of fact.  In order for a claim of Internet defamation, whether it’s Internet libel or Internet slander, to stand, it has to be a false statement of fact.  If it is a fact, if you say that John Doe was a person who at the meeting punched someone else, that can be proven as true or false, and if it’s true, then the fact that you say it cannot bring a legitimate claim of defamation against you.

So, is it opinion?  Is it a fact?  If it’s a fact, is it true? If it’s true, that is the best and most valid defense to claim of internet defamation that you are ever going to be able to put in play.  So, in order to be able to fight back against a threat letter sent to you claiming defamation of character on the Internet, you need to be able to establish the truth of the matter.

If you work with an attorney who specializes in Internet defamation issues, that attorney is going to ask you to provide any evidence that you might have of the truth of the statement.  That could be documents, witnesses, affidavits and a number of different things.  A good defamation lawyer, is going to do more in response to the threat letter alleging libel or slander, is going to do more than say it’s true, they’re going to try and grill you as the client to prove that it is true. Now, some things are easier proven than others are, but you want to be able to provide that information to your defamation lawyer, if you can, because that information is going to help your case.  Remember, there’s a lot of nuance going on here.  A lot times, there is an implicit thing going on with the attorneys and that is whether or not the other attorney believes that the case is weak or strong.  If you can help establish that the case is a weak case, you have drastically reduced the chance that someone’s going to file a lawsuit against you claiming Internet claiming Internet defamation of character.

My name is Enrico Schaefer. I practice Internet law.  I am an Internet lawyer and I specialize in these issues.  Until next time, we’ll see you.  Have a great day!

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