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Can I Sue for Defamation or Slander? Here's Your Answer If you've been defamed to the detriment of your reputation, company or revenue, it could be very worth it to sue. But first, you must determine if you meet the criteria.

By Brook Zimmatore Edited by Jessica Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Audtakorn Sutarmjam | EyeEm | Getty Images

Suing for damages resulting from defamation or slander on the Internet can be tricky, but there is a precedent for it. Successful lawsuits will typically have to prove a number of legal points, but the most important of these are:

  • That the content actually fits the definition of defamation

  • That it was done with either malice or negligence

  • That it caused damage to the plaintiff

Let's look at each of these elements in greater detail below.

Related: Protecting Your Online Reputation: How to Remove a Webpage

What is defamation?

Defamation is a false statement about another party that damages the reputation of that party. It must be posted on a public forum; a private letter sent to a company isn't considered defamation. Slander and libel are two types of defamation; slander is spoken and libel is in print. In order for content to be considered defamation, it must be reasonably assumed to have been made as a statement of fact.

Opinions posted online can be a gray area, as can modified photos or videos. Generally speaking, if an opinion is clearly identified as such, it's less likely to be found as defamation, and the same goes for absurd or obviously fake photos or videos. However, highly convincing media (like deepfakes) is more clearly considered defamation.

Malice or negligence

Suing successfully for defamation when the plaintiff is a public figure requires there to be malice behind the content. In other words, the person posting the comment must have done it with an intent to harm the company or public figure or with a reckless disregard for the truth. This can be difficult to prove, but it can be done. A good recent example is Nicholas Sandmann, a Kentucky teen who has successfully settled lawsuits for defamation against CNN and the Washington Post.

Proving damages

With a defamation lawsuit, the final piece of the puzzle for proving defamation is that the plaintiff suffered some sort of damage to their reputation as a result of the defamation. Again, this can be difficult to prove. It helps to document a clear loss of revenue that closely correlates with the timeframe the defamation occurred.

There are three types of damages in the majority of lawsuits: actual damages, presumed damages and punitive damages. Damages to reputation are most often categorized as presumed damages, while lost revenue is an actual damage. Whether the defamation is slander or libel determines the damages that can be sought; for instance, presumed damages are available for libel defamation but not for slander.

Quantifying damages

When determining how much in actual damages to seek, it's crucial to be able to show how much value each customer brings to the table. Knowing how much each customer is worth can help determine how much potential revenue is lost as a result of online defamation as well as how much actual revenue is lost if customers stop doing business as a result of the defamatory content. An expert consultant can typically be brought in to calculate an actual number.

Presumed and punitive damages can be more difficult to determine a value for, so again, an expert can help arrive at a number. Previous cases and precedence for similar types of lawsuits are a good place to start.

Related: How to Manage (and Repair) Your Business' Online Reputation

You can (and should) sue for defamation

If a company or brand is a victim of clear defamation, they are fully within their rights to sue. There can be a number of mitigating circumstances, and it can be a hard case to prove, but it's certainly possible. The world is still figuring out how to manage the internet, and the law is always late to catch up with technology, but internet defamation laws and rules are slowly making their way to the mainstream. Defamation can be significantly damaging to revenue and profits, and suing for it is both a way to recoup some of those losses as well as to establish a company as a "hard target" and recover one's good reputation.

Brook Zimmatore

CEO of Massive Alliance

Brook Zimmatore is a media and publishing technologist, entrepreneur and author. He specializes in building technology for people and publishers that improves the information provided in the media.

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