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Defamation Technology - what to do if you are being defamed online

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 17 May 2016
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
Computer mischief

If someone is spreading lies about you online, you may be able to take legal action against them for committing defamation. Defamation (also known as libel, or slander if spoken) is a false statement about a person which causes serious harm to their reputation.

However, there is a little more to defamation than someone saying something that isn’t true. In order for a statement to be defamatory, it needs to meet the following requirements.

It has to be presented as a fact

In order for a statement to be defamatory, it needs to be presented as an actual fact – something you could reasonably call a lie. If someone is just expressing an opinion, or saying something which is clearly not meant to be taken seriously or literally, this wouldn’t count as libel (though of course it could be another offence).

For example, if you play in a band and someone says on Twitter that your music is bad, that isn’t defamatory as they are simply stating a (presumably) honest opinion. However, if they claim that your songs are stolen from another band when they are actually your own original compositions, this might count as a defamatory statement.

It can also count if the defamation is merely implied – for example, if they wrote an article about bands who steal songs from other musicians, and included a picture of your band under the headline, this might count as defamation even if they do not directly state that you are such a band.

You have to suffer “serious harm”

A statement will not be regarded as defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to your reputation. For individuals this means that if as a result of false publication people’s opinions of you have worsened you may be able to pursue a claim even if you have not suffered a financial loss.

However, if you run a body trading for profit (e.g. a company or a business), harm will not be regarded as serious unless it has caused or is likely to cause serious financial loss”.

For example, if you run a company which people have been boycotting due to a rumour someone has spread about you on the internet, resulting in financial loss to your company, you may have a claim for defamation.

Defences of defamation

Of course, if you bring an accusation of defamation against someone, it is likely that they will have their excuses for why they said it. There are only a few actual defences which will work to defend them, however. Some of the defences are discussed below.

It was a true statement

Probably the most obvious defence someone can use when it comes to defamation is that what they said was actually true. They will need to prove that this is the case in order to use this defence, but if they can do so then they have demonstrated than their statement was not defamatory.

If the statement in question included some things which were true and some which were false, this can still stand as a defence if the things which were false weren’t bad enough to play a substantial part in causing serious harm to your reputation.

Honest opinion

As mentioned above, a statement of genuine opinion won’t count as defamatory, if the opinion appears grounded in fact and is an opinion that a reasonable person could hold.

However, if you can show that the statement was not genuinely their opinion, they will not be able to defend themselves on these grounds.

Publication on matter of public interest

It is a defence to defamation if the perpetrator can show that the statement complained of was a statement on a matter of public interest and that they reasonably believed that publishing the statement was in the public interest.

You can read more information in our defamation section.

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