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What constitutes defamation?

What is defamation?

Defamation is when a person says slanderous things that may cause damage to another’s reputation.

Common defamatory comments include:

  • Accusations that someone has committed a crime
  • Accusations that someone has a disease
  • Accusations that someone is conducting fraudulent activities

If the defamatory comments are written or published, this is called libel. Verbal or oral defamatory comments are called slander. Both slander and libel are only evident when others have seen or heard the comments.

How do the rules apply online?

To make a defamation claim, you must meet three requirements.

  1. The information must be communicated to others verbally, in writing, gestured or through pictures.
  2. The communication must identify you.
  3. The information must be defamatory in nature, whether it was intentional or not.

It is important to note here, that defamation extends to the online realm. With the emergence of social media in the last decade, it is so easy to share or re-tweet/post a defamatory comment about someone. You might not even realise you are doing it.

The first social media defamation case in Australia cost a student $100,000 for making a comment on twitter about a teacher.

You may be able to defend defamation provided the comments were true or the comment was an honest opinion.

Steps you can take before the legal route

Defamation cases must be brought to the court within one year of the publication date. Compensation is not the only option, when it comes to defamation claims. Some options include:

  • A written apology
  • Retraction of defamatory imputations
  • A letter stating each imputation published is untrue
  • Publication of a correction
  • A promise not to publish defamatory imputation in the future

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 16, 2019.

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