If you’ve been the victim of online libel or defamation of character that has negatively impacted your personal and/or professional reputation or your emotional wellbeing, you may be wondering whether or not to purse legal action.
This can be a difficult, yet very important decision. First of all, if you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to understand the difference between “free speech” and defamation. The truth is this: yes, United States citizens have freedom of speech, but there is a difference between using free speech in the manner for which it was intended versus harming another’s reputation or wellbeing with that speech. When people use online platforms or electronic communication to cause harm to others, this goes beyond the limits of free speech.
What Qualifies as Defamation?
By definition, defamation occurs when someone makes a false statement of fact to a third party about a person, persons, or business entity. The key phrase here is “statement of fact”; a statement of opinion cannot be defamatory, as it can neither be proven nor disproven.
But if another party has, indeed, made a false statement of fact about you and posted it to a thirty party with the purpose of causing harm, you have the right to pursue legal action and seek compensation. Keep in mind that, in this case, posting to a third party includes a social media site or group, via text message, email, or any other means of online or electronic communication.
The following is a checklist of grounds for an online defamation lawsuit:
- A false statement was made about you.
- The false statement was defamatory in nature.
- The false statement was published or made known to a third party.
- The wrongdoer is aware of the third party receiving this false information.
- The false statement has caused injury (financial, emotional, etc.).
Who is Liable for Online Defamation?
Due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, online companies and websites cannot be held liable for defamatory statements published on their platform. However, individuals who make the defamatory statements can be held responsible in many instances.
If an anonymous account made the defamatory statements about you, finding the person or persons responsible may prove challenging, but there are often ways to do this. A skilled defamation lawyer can help.
Moving Forward with Legal Action
If you are sure that the statements made about you qualify as defamation, pursuing legal action may be the best step to protect yourself and prevent the responsible party from continuing to defame you.
Once you make the decision to do this, the following steps should be taken:
1.) Preserve all evidence of defamation. Because posts can be deleted or edited, it’s important to take screenshots, noting the time and date of all defamatory statements made about you. This is necessary evidence for legal action to take place.
2.) Do not contact the wrongdoer after you make the decision to seek legal action. Instead, let your attorney handle all future communications.
3.) Do not retaliate by posting defamatory comments about the wrongdoer. If you do this, you are also committing defamatory acts.
There is no doubt that being the victim of online defamation can be distressing. However, if you ever find yourself in this situation, it’s important to stay composed, preserve all evidence, and seek qualified help in the form of an attorney who specializes in this type of defamation.