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.
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.
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.