Defamation Of Character And The Internet

With the rise of social media, online reviews and the ability to comment on blogs and articles at a moment’s notice—the internet has created a new medium of defaming someone’s character. However, how we utilize the internet is much different than how we engage in real life, which is why as of 2014 there have been some major changes to how defamation of character is viewed.

What Is Defamation Of Character?

Generally speaking, but there is plenty of grey area, defamation of character includes anything you say or write about a person or a business that:

  • Is false and/or discrediting
  • Has negative implications or innuendo
  • Damages their reputation
  • Negatively impacts their business
  • Results in hate, violence, ridicule or bullying
    This does not include things said directly to someone. A third party (or many other people) would need to be on the receiving end of the communication for defamation to be pursued.

If the information is written it is referred to as libel, which is therefore easier to prove than spoken defamation. This includes things broadcast in a publication, magazine, on a website, in an email, a book, newspaper, or film. Defamation is sometimes referred to as slander and includes photographs and cartoons.

How The Internet Has Changed Liable Defamation

We are in a digital day and age where the average person regularly writes online reviews or posts online comments. This led to a few major defamation reforms in 2014. Here are some of the basics:

  • The new regulations are designed to balance the right of the freedom of expression, with the right of protection of reputation.
  • Websites owners are now held responsible for the comments readers make on their site—leaving many to create an approval process that ensures all comments are reviewed before they go live and not in real time.
  • Comments expressed as an opinion in which “an honest person could have held the basis of any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published; anything asserted to be a fact in a privileged statement published before the statement complained of” are not considered defamation.
  • Negative comments “that the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true” are not considered defamation.

What About Online Reviews?

Online reviews are where things get tricky for a variety of reasons. Yes, they are an opinion and therefor may not be viewed in a positive light. The question is whether they are honest, misleading, or outright false?

In addition to genuine reviews, there is a growing trend in online trolls, people who anonymously post defamatory comments online for the fun of it—even to businesses they have never been to.

Businesses who lack integrity sometimes pay for false reviews, either positive or negative.

You must also consider that reviews posted online in different countries are held to different defamation standards. For example, the review you leave on a globally respected US-based travel website for a hotel you stayed in while on business is Canada will be held to international defamation standards. Who can be held responsible for defamation varies greatly from one country to the next.

Not All Negative Comments Qualify As Defamation

As a business it can be hard to swallow a less than shining review. For example, a negative comment about your chocolate cake being dry is an honest opinion and odds are that you would not win your case. It is unlikely that such a comment would have a negative impact on your business and that it is, more than anything, personally disruptive. However, a lie stating that your business has been shut down by Public Health five times this year—and it hasn’t been shut down once, would qualify as defamation of character.

What To Do If You Have Been Defamed

If you have been defamed, you have the right to take legal action. This could be related to your business or your personal life. This includes damaging emails, social media comments and posts, website content or comments, printed content, or verbal defamation of character. Depending on the circumstances your claims may be against the author and/or the publisher, or the person who shared defamatory lies. The question is can you show that your reputation has been damaged or that you suffered real or potential financial loss?

If you are a victim of online or offline defamation of character or you have been accused of defamation when the information you posted or spoke was true—reach out to the team, email