In legal terms, slander refers to a false statement that is orally dictated. It must defame another person. It is different from libel, which is a written statement of defamation.
It is not classified as a crime, but rather a tort. This means it is a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal issue. You can still sue and win reparations for defamation in small claims court.
How do you stop someone slandering you?
If you are reading this article, it is likely you are past the point where you can civilly ask them to stop badmouthing you. Prior to filing a lawsuit against the individual slandering you, there is a cheaper route to go down.
Your first step is to send a cease and desist letter to the slanderous individual from an attorney. You can also seek a restraining order if you feel this would be appropriate.
Is backbiting a sin?
Backbiting is also known as tale-bearing. It means to slander someone while they are absent from you.
Timothy 2:16-17 states “but shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer.”
The Bible is very clear that gossip, backbiting, and indeed slander of any kind is a major sin. Saint Thomas Acquinas described it as a venial sin - one that is found in nearly everyone but also the gravest sin you can commit against your neighbor.
In most major religions it is seen in a similar manner. Buddhism counteracts the precept of right speech. In Islam, the Qur’an compares backbiting to eating the flesh of your dead brother. The religion also teaches that you should not sit back and be quiet if you observe backbiting occurring.
Judaism refers to slander as hotzaat shem ra. This translates to spreading a bad name, and it is deemed to be a serious sin.
What does defamation mean?
A defamatory statement is one that is presented as fact, despite a lack of evidence to corroborate this.
In order for a statement to be defamatory, you must prove that it has caused damage to the individual’s reputation or business.
How do you prove defamation?
The onus is on the plaintiff to prove the statement made about them was defamatory and has caused some kind of damage. This is done by satisfying 4 different conditions.
These are: that the false statement is masquerading, or being presented as, fact. They must also prove that the slanderous statement has been communicated or publicized to a third party or parties.
The third condition to satisfy is that at best the defendant was negligent in their expression of opinion. Finally, there must be some quantitative evidence of fiscal damages being experienced by the plaintiff, or some proof of mental or physical trauma being sustained.
The laws on defamation vary between states, and it is important to check your specific state’s legislation before bringing a case to court. It is always wise to consult an attorney for advice if you are in any doubt.
What about personal opinion?
There is a gray area in the law regarding this. In order for a statement to be ruled as defamation, there must be proven knowledge that the statement was false. Alternatively, if the truthfulness of the statement is in question, but it is still presented as truth, this too qualifies as defamation.
Opinions are different, as you are allowed to present whatever opinions you like under the protection of free speech. This is why law enforcement, the media, and the general public are so careful to use the word allegedly when referring to facts that have not been proven.
What damages can you receive?
Damages for slander are not always presumed, and the suing party must prove your eligibility.
You can be issued monetary damages for any harm that the slanderous statement has caused. This can be for emotional trauma (such as stress or mental anguish), reputational damage, loss of wages or ability to earn a wage, and physical pain or suffering.
What are the defences for defamation cases?
As the name suggests, this is concrete proof of the validity and truthfulness of the alleged slanderous statement.
A comment cannot be considered slanderous or defamatory if it is truthful. The onus is on the defendant to prove the statement is truthful, not on the plaintiff to prove that it is false.
As mentioned above, this can cause issues within the court. The defendant must prove conclusively that the allegedly slanderous statement was a true reflection of their opinion.
They must also prove that any reasonable person could have held the same opinions at the time the statement was expressed.
If the defendant cannot prove that this was their genuine opinion at the time the statement was made, they will lose their case.
The public interest defence is very commonly used by media organizations to justify the publication of potentially slanderous or defamatory material.
In order for this defence to be sustained, the defendant must prove that they held a reasonable belief that the publication of the disputed statement was in the public interest.
It needs to be proven that the allegedly defamatory comment relates to something that is a matter of interest to the public, and would impact the way that they think.
In essence, this only applies to a select group of people. It is typically found in common law and serves to protect people that make laws.
This only applies ‘on the floor’ of the lawmaking bodies, it is not a cover-all that gives them total immunity. The intention behind the statement does not matter.
This also applies to procedural reports and communications during legal trials.
This serves to protect people who believed that their defamatory statement was made in service of a legal, moral, or social obligation.
It is often used when the defendant has a reason to believe the truthfulness of their statement.
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