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Can I Be Sued for Slander on Facebook?
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Can I Be Sued for Slander on Facebook?
Social media has taken over the world in many ways. The number of people who use Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms is astounding. What many people don’t realize is that what is posted on these platforms can have permanent consequences — for the poster and the person they are posting about. Making false claims about a person that damages their reputation is something that you could be sued for, or that you could sue someone else for. If you find yourself in either position, it’s wise to contact an experienced law firm as soon as possible. Off-the-cuff statements, comments, and videos that are posted on Facebook can end up having long-lasting and devastating consequences for people and businesses. Make sure you know what to do to pursue a claim or defend yourself from one. Morgan & Morgan has been handling these types of claims for decades. Our attorneys are well-versed in claims that arise out of social media, and we would be happy to assist you. Contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free consultation.
What Is Slander?
Slander is a form of defamation in which someone attempts to harm or damage your reputation by making false statements regarding you. To be guilty of slander, the accused must have made these statements orally, such as through making false statements on the radio or TV, making false claims in a Facebook livestream or posted video, or spreading untrue claims about a person at work.
How to Prove Slander?
To prove that someone has slandered you (or for them to prove that you slandered them), the following elements must be proven:
- Identification. One of the first elements of a slander case that must be proven is that the plaintiff was in fact identified in the slanderous comment. They must be able to show that the comment was “of and concerning” himself. It’s important to note that for a comment to be slanderous, it’s not a requirement that it specifically mentions the plaintiff by name. It’s enough if the plaintiff is reasonably identifiable by the information shared.
- Publication. The next element is that the slanderous statement must have been disseminated to a third party. This simply means that a third party must have heard the comments. If someone posts a video but no one saw the video, there’s no way for them to be found guilty of slander because this element cannot be met (assuming it was clear that no one had seen the video).
- Defamatory. Next, the plaintiff must prove that the statement made was in fact defamatory. This means the comments must have done more than just annoy or hurt the plaintiff’s feelings; they must have a defamatory meaning and therefore damage the plaintiff’s reputation. Typically, a defamatory statement is defined as one that an ordinary person would find damaging to their own reputation.
- Statement of Fact Is False. Next, the plaintiff must prove that the statement of fact made by the defendant was false and can be objectively verified as being false.
- Damages. Finally, the plaintiff must show that the defamatory statements actually caused them harm and they suffered damages. Damages can be anything that the plaintiff lost or incurred as a direct result of the slanderous comments. Examples of damages include lost wages, lost earning capacity, lost business opportunities, and any other economic losses the plaintiff was subjected to as a result. This might also include having to spend money to try to repair their reputation and gain back business opportunities. Additionally, if a plaintiff is successful in a slander lawsuit, they can recover monetary compensation for emotional distress and reputational harm as well.
Defamation/Slander Per Se
In most states, a defendant can be found guilty of defamation or slander per se. This means that the statements made were so clearly defamatory that no actual evidence of damages is required. This doesn’t mean evidence of damages shouldn’t be presented, but a case can be won without this evidence. The following statements are typically referred to as defamation or slander per se:
- Comments alleging the plaintiff committed a crime;
- Statements alleging the plaintiff has some type of “loathsome” disease, such as a sexually transmitted disease;
- A statement claiming the plaintiff is unchaste or engaged in sexual misconduct; and
- Statements claiming the plaintiff committed professional misconduct.
In these situations, reputational harm is automatically assumed, and it’s easy to see why. These are very extreme examples, though. Slander cases can be brought in many different circumstances, even when the grounds might be slightly less obvious.
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Slander on Facebook: So, Can I Be Sued for Slander on Facebook?
Bringing a lawsuit against someone for something they said on Facebook is no different than any other type of slander case. The plaintiff must prove the above elements. On Facebook, the slanderous comments would need to be in the form of a video or livestream, as written comments on Facebook would be considered libel. The potential for damages when posting something slanderous on Facebook is significant, as people all over the world could end up seeing the statements. This could cause significant harm to a person’s income, reputation, and emotional wellbeing. This is important for everyone to keep in mind when posting anything on Facebook, even if the intention isn’t malicious.
It's important to understand that it is not slanderous to make comments that hurt a person’s reputation or business. It is only slanderous if the statements are false. If a defendant can show that the statements are true—or the plaintiff cannot show that the statements are false—a slander case will not be successful. Typically, a plaintiff has the burden to show that the statements made were false, though it would always be helpful for a defendant to show that the statements are in fact true.
What Kind of Damages Can Be Awarded for a Facebook Slander Case?
In slander cases, a plaintiff who is able to prove their case is entitled to several different types of damages. In most states, they are eligible for the following:
Special damages are typically straightforward. These are awarded as a way to reimburse victims for actual monetary losses, such as loss of business opportunities, lost wages, and lost future earning capacity or wages. This can also include any expenses the plaintiff incurred as a result of defending the slanderous comments.
General damages are a little less straightforward and can be more difficult to prove. General damages refer to non-economic losses, such as harm to reputation and emotional distress. Proving emotional stress can be much more difficult than proving that a plaintiff lost out on business deals or that they had to spend money defending themselves against the slander. These types of damages can be shown through testimony about how the situation affected a plaintiff through expert testimony from a therapist or psychiatrist. A plaintiff can simply testify to reputational and emotional damage, but it can be more effective to have an objective third party testify if possible.
Punitive damages are not awarded as a way to make the victim whole again. Rather, punitive damages are awarded as a punishment to the defendant. It is also intended to deter the defendant and other potential defendants from behaving in a similar way in the future. To be awarded punitive damages, a plaintiff typically must show that the defendant made the statements with actual malice. This can be proven by showing the defendant made the statements knowing that they were false, or they made the statements with reckless disregard about whether the statements were true.
What Is the Difference Between Defamation, Slander, and Libel?
Slander is a harmful statement that is made orally, whereas libel is a damaging statement that is made in writing. Defamation is the overarching category of both defamation and libel. Both slander and libel involve a defendant making defamatory statements about the plaintiff.
Is It Slander to Post Photos of Someone on Facebook?
If you post a photo on Facebook or someone posts a photo of you, this would not be considered slander, even if the photo harms someone’s reputation or causes monetary losses. Typically, if you post a photo that you took of someone in a public place, this isn’t a problem. Keep in mind, though, that just because it isn’t slander to post photos, you could be breaking other laws. For example, many states have laws against posting nude photos of another person without their permission.
Contact Morgan & Morgan Today
If you believe you might be sued for slander, or you believe you might have a claim against someone else, move quickly. It’s important to speak with an experienced law firm right away so you can explore your options. Morgan & Morgan has been handling all types of defamation claims for decades. When you hire us, you hire a firm that cares about your case as much as you do. We have the resources of a nationwide firm, with the personability of a small firm. We will always keep you up to date on your claim and help you through this stressful time in any way possible. Contact Morgan & Morgan today for a free case evaluation.