Online Defamation – Definitions, Recourse and Legal

Brook Zimmatore | February 5, 2013

This article is pointed primarily at US bloggers, journalists and content writers. It serves as a general guideline for defining online defamation and the rights and boundaries of anyone who post online. Other countries such as the UK and many countries in Europe, do follow similar principals, but legal counsel should always be saught if there is a question.

Disclaimer: Massive are not internet legal professionals. Information you read here serves only as a guideline from experience and work with legal teams.

Understanding Defamation

Defamation: Is any false statement made to appear fact which harms the reputation of a group or person. Per law it is defamation whether posted with malice-afore-thought or in ignorance/negligence. Libel is simply defamation in the written form and slander is defamation in the spoken form. Articles and publications would be libel and video or other spoken attacks would be slander.

Malice: In its legal application, the term malice is comprehensive and applies to any legal act that is committed intentionally without Just Cause or excuse. It does not necessarily imply personal hatred or ill feelings, but rather, it focuses on the mental state that is in reckless disregard of the law in general and of the legal rights of others. An example of a malicious act would be committing the tort of slander by labeling a nondrinker an alcoholic in front of his or her employees.

source: The Legal Dictionary

Taking Legal Action Against Online Defamation

To take action against a person or group with a defamation charge, one would need to be prepared with the following:

  • Evidence or publication with the defaming statement
  • Evidence of a false statement
  • That (1) and (2) above are a valid concern to you or your firm and that they harm your reputation
  • If you are a public figure, you will need to prove malice. Unfortunately public figures (celebrities, radio or TV hosts, or “people in the limelight” have less rights than the average person or group.

Using truth to prove lies

Truth is always a great defense against defamation. However, accurately proving defamation as a lie is very expensive.

Opinions Vs Defamation

This is the oldest trick in journalism. By stating that “the following is my opinion…” journalists or other defamers protect themselves. The fact that they are stating it as an “opinion” removes it from the charge of defamation, as they are not stating it as fact. It is very rare for a court to rule against defamatory opinions. Examples of this can be seen in forums, comments, feedback websites etc, where the defamer starts the libel with “I think…”, or “My opinion on this is…”.

Is there really any justice?

I think the community aspect of the internet is one of its most valuable aspects. In fact, just the other day I was swayed from buying a product from a company after looking over reviews of how their delivery system was causing a lot of upset with consumers.

But it would be naive for anyone to think that the competition, disgruntled ex-employees or people with little else to do are abusing of this online community. In fact – I KNOW it happens.

Online defamation is so prevalent that a vast majority of bad reviews for mid to large businesses are in fact altered truths. When people get angry, they lie. Despite that the cause of their anger gets resolved (after complaints most firms will clean up the issue) these lies remain online, working day by day like termites, eating away at the company brand, trust and consumer base.


There are alternate solutions to costly legal action. We cover these options on several other pages on this site.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.