A lot of questions surround defamation, particularly about how it applies to businesses. It a nutshell, defamation is communication with the intent to damage another individual’s or entity’s reputation. To legally qualify as defamation, the claim(s) must be false and expressed to a third party. There are two types of defamation–libel is defamation in the written form and slander is defamation in the spoken form.
The law of defamation protects an individuals’ or business’s reputation, meaning a party has the right to sue another if false claims have been made about them publicly, including on social media.
Elements of a defamation claim
There’s a fine line between freedom of speech and defamation. A negative statement made about another person or business entity doesn’t always qualify as defamation. For a claim to be defamatory, certain conditions must be met:
- The communication in question must be a false statement of fact as opinions aren’t considered defamation. For example, to say “the meal was terrible” is an opinion whereas “the restaurant has rats,” is a statement of fact.
- The statement is published to a third party, either spoken or written, but not self-published. Posting the allegedly defamatory statement about you to your own Facebook page doesn’t qualify as being published to a third party. The original party making the claim needs to have published or verbally communicated this statement to a third party.
- The defendant must be the person who made the statement.
- The statement causes damage to the individual’s or business’s reputation.
Private vs. Public
If the plaintiff in a defamation case is a private citizen and the case is regarding a private matter, then the court only needs to prove that the defendant acted negligently. Businesses are typically included under this provision and also only need to prove negligence.
If the case involves a matter of public concern, public figures or public officials, there are additional legal requirements that must be met to prove defamation. With a public figure, malice becomes a factor. For example, it must be proven that the defendant knowingly published the false statement of fact or had a complete disregard for the truth.
Businesses can be the target of defamation in multiple forms, which can result in loss of revenue or damage to a business’s reputation:
- Through the media–if a media source such as a newspaper or local news channel publishes an untrue statement of fact, a business may be able to sue on the grounds of defamation.
- From an employee–a current or former employee may make damaging claims causing damage to your business.
- Social media–the widespread content on social media mostly goes unchecked, which opens the door for negative or false comments and statements. A poor online review or negative employee comment can be read and shared by thousands, increasing the damage to a business exponentially.
Defamation can be damaging both financially and emotionally. If you believe that you or your business has been defamed or you’re facing a defamation charge, it’s important to learn more about your rights and take action to protect them.