Social media: libel and slander on blogs

With the elections that just ended and the increasing use of blogs, I'm seeing more and more examples of what I understand to be libel. Is there any legal recourse if one thinks he or she has been slandered?

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

Were they libelous, meaning did they defame candidates? Not necessarily. To have a claim for defamation, the statement must have been published to another person, the information must be false, and, in most cases, it must have lowered 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.

For more information about libel and slander laws, contact Joe Veenstra at 608-784-5678.

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