Libel and Slander: Do blogs count?

If you think blogs are out of control during elections, you are not alone. There are certainly many attacks against candidates in online journals, according to Joe Veenstra, a Johns, Flaherty & Collins attorney.

Are they libelous, meaning do they defame candidates? Not necessarily. To have a claim for defamation, the statement must be published to another person, the information must be false, and, in most cases, it must lower the reputation of the person about whom it was said.

If you write something defamatory about your neighbor, you could be sued for libel under the negligence or "reasonable person" standard, meaning most reasonable people would not have made the statement. But if a person is a public figure, which applies to anyone running for office, then actual malice must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. Actual malice is a higher standard which means a statement was published knowing it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or not.

Calling a politician ugly is a protected opinion, but suggesting he or she is a murderer without any charges being filed would be libelous.

Also, what is considered defamatory may change depending on the context in which the statement is made. For example, calling someone a communist in the 1950's might be defamatory, while calling someone a terrorist today could be libelous. "Defamation law is changing all the time," he said. 


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