What is Libel?

The United States is a prime example of freedom, and much of that comes from the First Amendment. The First Amendment allows you to say whatever you want without fear of prosecution, but there are limits. Speech may be protected, but deliberately insulting someone or lying about their reputation to do harm is not considered okay under the First Amendment.

The laws dealing with this type of speech are known as defamation laws and deal specifically with purposeful harm of someone’s characters. Libel is a major part of defamation law in the country, but few people know what libel is. Let’s talk about libel including what it is and what to do if it happens to you.

What is Libel and How Does It Work?

In law, libel is “a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation.” If someone publishes an untrue statement about you intended to do harm, they have committed libel. It’s not exactly that simple though – certain criteria must be met for any defamation such as libel to be considered a legal matter. Defamation must be:

  • Be demonstrably untrue
  • Proven to be injurious to the plaintiff
  • Must be admissible in court or “unprivileged.” This is to discourage a chilling effect while testifying in court.
  • Any statements must be published in a written format to be considered libel

Libel vs. Slander

Both libel and slander are defamation, but the difference comes in how the defamation is presented. Libel is written defamation while slander is defamatory speech. Both are not protected under the Frist Amendment.

Libel in the Online World

Let’s say your competitor has published many false negative reviews about your company, is this considered libel? Let’s see if it checks the boxes:

  • Injurious: Your company is losing potential and current business due to the false and negative reviews.
  • False: If the “customers” writing the review didn’t have work performed by you, these are false statements.
  • Published: It is online and viewable by anyone.
  • Unprivileged: This type of speech is not considered privileged.

Posting false negative reviews can and will be considered libel.

What to Do About Online Libel

If you have been the victim of defamation, you need defense and what’s better than a defamation defense firm? The experts at a defamation defense firm can put their expertise and experience to work to both track your name or company for anything defamatory and can help you out should you need to pursue legal matters.

Author: Melissa Popp
Melissa Popp is Director of Digital Engagement for Altitude Agency, a boutique agency helping small businesses win with content online. As a digital strategist with a passion for technology and travel, she coaches her partners to connect with their audience through experience optimization, with the goal of retaining more loyal visitors, creating brand ambassadors, and increasing conversion goals. She can be found online writing for TripSavvy, TechNorms, and The Emmys. Past clients include Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Samsung.