What is Internet Defamation?

Alexis W.

Internet defamation refers to false or reputation-harming statements made on the Internet. It is a specific form of defamation, which is a cause of action available when an individual makes an express or implied claim about someone that is designed to produce a negative reaction. In other words, if Joe falsely claims Sally is a thief on his web page, Sally could potentially sue for Internet defamation.

Internet defamation can lead to gossip being spread in person.
Internet defamation can lead to gossip being spread in person.

In order to make a case for Internet defamation, the standard elements of defamation must be proven. There are two different tests to determine whether defamation occurred, depending on who is being defamed. Individuals are protected from defamation more so than companies or businesses. A private citizen who is defamed need only prove that the false and/or derogatory statements were made, and that he suffered harm to his reputation as a result.

Internet defamation that is printed out and widely distributed may classify as libel.
Internet defamation that is printed out and widely distributed may classify as libel.

In order for a business or a public figure to be able to make a claim for defamation, the company must prove that the person making the statement acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth. This standard was set in the United States in a case called New York Times v. Sullivan, in which the New York Times was accused of making false claims. According to the judge, if a public figure, business or public entity wants to make a claim for defamation, he must prove that the individual or entity making the false and derogatory statements knew the statements were false when they made them, and/or was very reckless in determining whether the statements were true or not. This means if the president of the United States or a famous actor wishes to sue for defamation, he has to prove that whoever he sued either didn't care that the statements weren't true and did no fact checking or that the person making the statements purposely told lies.

Bringing a legal action for Internet defamation can be difficult due to jurisdictional issues. In order to sue, the plaintiff would have to find out exactly who is defaming him. The plaintiff would then have to sue that person or entity in a state where the defamer has sufficient contact to give the state authority over him. Since Internet websites are often global, finding an appropriate location to sue for the Internet defamation is generally a complicated issue. When the plaintiff is able to sue, the cause of action is considered a cause of action in tort, and he can obtain monetary damages if he proves the required elements of his case.

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Discussion Comments


I have a child who has some special needs. I have not been happy with his preschool/therapy place. They called CPS on me, as they felt I was depressed. They also felt that I needed to set up care for my child when we left the preschool. I was scared and sick over the CPS stuff.

I went on to yahoo to get advice and stated things from my view. In my dazed moments, I stated the names of his teacher and the director I feel were the ones who really felt the need for CPS. The other staff would go with whatever I felt. Plus, due to what the CPS worker said, I knew it was conversations with those two people.

Now, one wrote, "I have seen the personal attacks you’ve written about me, using my name, on several different websites. As these statements are untrue and unfounded, I have consulted my attorney about my rights. I am giving you the chance to personally remove all of the statements you have made about me. If they are not removed within 10 days of this e-mail and if I see any additional inaccurate information posted about me in the future, I will have no choice but to initiate legal proceedings to protect my rights." The one who wrote this is married to an attorney. While talking to the CPS worker, she did slip as to who she talked to. She did not catch the slip, but my husband and I did.

Now, nothing I wrote has my direct name, but in today's world, I was not writing to be mean. I needed answers as to what I needed to do with schooling for my child and CPS. What do I do now? I have not commented back about this e-mail, but will have to deal with it at some point. Help please!

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