There is often confusion between the two main forms of defamation – libel and slander. The general perception is that slander is spoken while libel is written. The more accurate classification is that libel is in a permanent form (e.g. book, carving, video, painting, etc) while slander is in a non-permanent form (e.g. spoken words).
However, what I did not know before this is when can legal action be taken.
Libel is actionable per se meaning that the plaintiff can take legal action directly. This explains why local newspapers are so ambiguous when they comment on any story. They just won’t come out and say whom it is but would rather beat around the bush and give us readers a puzzle to solve.
Unfortunately, this is not necessarily defensible under the law either as the law does not require a person to be specifically named nor does it care about the use of pseudonyms or fake names. All it requires is that a person be identifiable by someone who knows him/her reasonably well.
Slander requires that the plaintiff prove that there are special damages. What this means is that it is generally more difficult to sue for slander than for libel. However, there are exceptions in several specific instances:
- Claims that a woman is unchaste.
- Claims that someone has some disease.
- Claims that a person has committed a crime.
- Claims that a person or business is unprofessional.
To make this list easy to memorise, I’m going to remember it as virgin, STI, rape, and prostitution. These slanders are actionable as they immediately affect the esteem that others might have towards a person, which is the principle thing that the law tries to protect – not one’s self-esteem.
What I don’t get is the virgin. It’s not actionable if someone claims that a man is not chaste but if the same claim is directed at a woman, it becomes slander. That’s extremely biased and unfair to say the least. It sends the wrong signal.
So, now I know.
How this relates to me is pretty simple – I blog a lot.
That means that I have to be careful about what I write on my blog as they are libel and actionable per se. It also means that I cannot claim that a professional is behaving unprofessionally as that would be actionable slander as well. Other than that, I’ll just need to be careful.