Slander and Libel – What do you need to know?

What is slander and what is libel and what can you do about it?paperwork

Because so much of bullying takes the form of verbal abuse and because so much of that verbal abuse is an attack on the individual as a person, it is important to understand just what the laws are that protect us from these sorts of attacks.

Slander and libel are basically the same thing. They are a form of defamation. The difference is that slander is verbal and libel is written or published in some way.

So what is defamation? Defamation is communicating falsehoods with the intent to harm the reputation of another. This is obviously a problem that is linked to bullying since one form of bullying is defamation.

While it is safe to argue that defamation is morally wrong, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is criminally wrong, however, most jurisdictions in the world treat it as a criminal wrong or civil wrong. The problem is that since defamation in the form of slander or libel involves speech, we have to balance our free speech rights against the right of an individual to not be harmed by the false speech of others.

And that isn’t all that easy to do and it calls the laws into question. Especially since people gossip, it’s an evolved human trait. Anyway – it isn’t unusual for people to share false stories without realizing they are false and without intending to harm the person who is being lied about.

Regardless, if you feel you are being defamed either through slander or through libel, you have to do some research. What are the laws where you live? I live in the US – so I am going to start there.

You are not generally protected against slander, however, you are protected against libel. So someone may spread rumors, but as long as they are verbal, the assumption is that very little real harm is caused.

However, if the defamation is in published form, like say, in an email, it becomes a matter of libel. There are two remedies for libel: civil and criminal.

It is hard to prove criminal libel in the US because the bar is set so high to protect our free speech rights. However, to be criminal libel, the statement must be false, you must prove real harm has occurred and you have to prove it was done maliciously and intentionally. There aren’t too many cases of criminal libel that are filed as a result of the bar being set so high. In fact, according to Wikipedia, only 41 criminal libel cases were filed in the US between 1992 and 2004 and out of those, only 6 resulted in conviction.

Long story short, if you are being libeled or slandered don’t count on the criminal justice system to help you.

On the other hand, there are civil remedies available, which you may want to pursue. Obviously, pursuing civil litigation is costly and onerous on the victim of defamation, but if you can prove libel, it may be worth it.

For more information – WikiHow has a great little article on how to sue for defamation. and how to prove libel