If your child has been cyberbullied, can you sue for defamation of character?
With one in four kids being bullied these days on the Internet, do any of them have grounds for defamation of character lawsuits? They might, if they meet the definition of Defamation of Character, according to law.
What is defamation of character?
According to the website “Your Internet Lawyer,” produced by Sam Redlich Law LLC, of Hopewell, N.J., Defamation of Character begins as “a communicated statement that injures another person’s reputation.” Such statements can either be spoken, which is slander, or written, which is libel. Statements posted on the Internet, whether they are in writing or in a video or audio recording, are considered libel.
To prove Defamation of Character:
- the communicated statement must be false – and you must be able to prove that it’s false
- it must be a statement that would cause harm to the person it’s about, such as damaging their reputation.
- According to an article on the University of North Carolina’s website, the person making the false statement must also know, at least on some level, that some or all of the statement is false.
Houston lawyer sues for Defamation of Character on teen daughter’s behalf
One lawyer in Houston is suing three middle school girls for defaming his daughter’s character online, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle. The students, according to the lawsuit, posted a video of themselves online allegedly saying the attorney’s daughter was engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour. The suit also alleged the girls threatened to harm the attorney’s daughter. In the lawsuit, the attorney requested a permanent injunction to prohibit the girls from contacting his daughter. The father had initially sent letters to the girls and their parents to cease and desist. The Houston case sounds like an instance of cyberbullying that the involved parties were unable to resolve on their own, so it ended up in court. The father later dropped the lawsuit when a settlement agreement was reached between him and the teenagers that essentially amounted to apologies, a donation to the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use and promises not to engage in this type of behaviour again.
Defamation of Character laws are not clear cut
Other factors that muddy the waters in defamation cases are that slander and libel laws differ between states, including the statute of limitations on filing a defamation case. If you are wondering if you should file a defamation case, you should first seek the advice of a good lawyer who is well-versed in Internet defamation laws and precedents. Sometimes on the Internet, it is often difficult to determine which states have jurisdiction over different websites. The websites where defaming statements are sometimes posted must also be taken into account. Another factor that can add even more confusion is that sometimes it’s hard to determine the fine line between opinion and falsehood.
Freedom of speech prevails as Minnesota doctor loses Defamation of Character case against patient’s son
In Minnesota, a doctor sued the son of a patient after he had shared negative statements online about the doctor. It took three years to go through the courts, but finally, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the patient’s son had not crossed the line between opinion and falsehood and was exercising his free speech rights.
Is it Defamation of Character or isn’t it?
Prefacing a statement that you know is false with, “In my opinion” won’t keep you from getting a defamation suit slapped on you, especially if the statement that follows the “in my opinion” is some accusation that is both false and damaging.
It seems odd, then, that hurling hurtful insults at someone, even on the Internet, is not considered defamation in the eyes of the law. So, if you call someone a racist, a witch or worse, even if the person is not a witch or a racist, these insults would not be considered actionable under the definition of defamation law.
Public figures, such as politicians, are not as protected by defamation laws as private citizens because of the fact they are in the public eye and, as such, are expected to take some heat. The public figure must be able to prove the person who made the defamatory statement did so with actual malice.
Things to consider before you file for Cyber Defamation of Character
The University of North Carolina article on cyberbullying and defamation lawsuits states that many victims of cyberbullying do have a case that may be successful, but it points out some potential drawbacks of filing a defamation lawsuit.
- One is that once you file a lawsuit, it is a public record and even more people will hear these defaming statements and will not know whether or not they are true or false.
- If the media covers only the dramatic beginnings of a lawsuit and fails to report on its conclusion, they may not ever learn just how false these statements are.
- Cyberbullying victims may not want to subject themselves to that much notoriety.
- Another point to think about is how difficult it might be to prove that derogatory statements are, indeed, false. You could open yourself up to negative public scrutiny and then lose, not because the statements are true, but because you couldn’t prove unequivocally that they weren’t.