Defamation, slander or libel, what is the difference between them and when can you legally pursue someone for either one? Today we’re going to take a look at what exactly each of these terms means and when they can be pursued in court if necessary.

Defamation, Slander or Libel: The Definitions

Defamation, slander, and libel are commonly confused, so let’s begin by taking a look at the most basic definition of each.


Defamation is an intentionally false statement that is spoken or written. This is a statement that damages someone’s reputation, decreases the confidence, regard, or respect in which a person is held, or incites hostile, disparaging, or disagreeable feelings or opinions against a person. There are two classifications of defamation – slander and libel – both of these types of defamation may be prosecuted with civil or criminal charges. It is important to remember that ANY accused defamation that can be proven to be true is not considered to be defamation at all. It is also worth noting that opinion is generally not considered to be defamatory since it cannot be proven as being true or untrue.


The term “slander” refers to a defamatory statement that is oral or spoken. For a statement to be considered slander, it must be spoken by one person to another person about a third person. These statements can be made at any time in any place but the person claiming slander (the third person in this instance) must be able to prove that they were somehow damaged by your statement.

An example of slander: John tells Mary that the town Mayor is guilty of drunk driving when he knows that he is not, but he does so because he has a personal dislike for him and wants to see him out of office. This prompts the spreading of the rumor among everyone in town and despite having been the most popular Mayor in the town’s history, at the upcoming re-election, the mayor is not re-elected. The mayor can prove that the reason he was not re-elected was a direct result of John’s untrue statement about him and he pursues charges of slander against him.


The term “libel” refers to a defamatory statement that is written. For a statement to be considered libel, it can be written just about anywhere where it can be viewed by others. The person who is claiming libel (the person whom the written statement was about) must be able to prove that the statement caused damage to their reputation.

Libel is generally considered to be a more injurious act simply due to the fact that the published word has a longer life than the spoken word.

An example of libel: John is a writer for the local newspaper, he writes a piece about the mayor in which he makes the same accusations as before. The consequences of John’s statement are the same, but this time they are written in the newspaper so rather than pursue charges of slander, the mayor would instead pursue charges of libel.

Defamation, Slander or Libel: Pursuing a Case of Defamation

When pursuing a case of defamation, it’s important to know that the laws of defamation vary from state to state. That said, there are some general rules that stand for pursuing a case of defamation.

A statement must meet all of the following requirements

  • It must have been published – meaning that it was spoken or written in the presence of a third party
  • It must be false
  • It must be considered injurious
  • It must be considered unprivileged – for example, if a statement was given in a courtroom, the person making that statement is doing so under privilege because in that particular situation they must be free to speak the truth and not be concerned over being pursued for defamation.

Defamation, Slander or Libel: When You Have to Fight Harder to Prove Your Case

Proving defamation can be tricky and for some people, it can be even trickier because of their position in society. Take, for example, public officials like our mayor in the example above. The public has the right to be critical of those who govern them and so it is much harder for public officials to prove a case of defamation. It is also worth remembering that not everyone has a reasonable expectation of privacy and so those individuals living in the public eye are afforded less protection than those individuals who are living private lives The same rules apply for a public official proving defamation as noted above, but they must also prove that the statement was made with actual malice (knowledge that what was being said was untrue or was reckless with their accusations not caring whether they were true or not.)

The Reason We Have Defamation Laws Against Slander or Libel

Laws against defamation exist to protect individuals against injury to their reputation as a result of statements published by others. This means that in order to prove defamation, someone must have a reputation to protect, what does that mean? It means that even if comments against you meet all other criteria for defamation if your reputation was terrible to begin with, you have lost nothing and experienced no “damages”.

Defamation, Slander or Libel Affecting Your Life?

If defamation, slander or libel are affecting your life and you need the help of a reputable attorney to represent your case in court, Weidner Law can help. Located in St Pete, Florida, Weidner Law is proud to be the people’s attorney of choice. To find out more about how Weidner Law can help you just pick up the phone and call 727-954-8752!

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