Slander and libel are both forms of defamation, and they are both potentially actionable in a court of law. Both are also attempts to undermine the reputation of another person or an entity. However, slander and libel refer to different defamation strategies. Whereas slander refers to spoken defamation, libel refers to defamation that appears in written or print form.
Elements of Defamation
Whether a person is accused of slander or libel, four elements must be proven against them. The first is the requirement for publication, meaning that a third party have heard, seen or otherwise witnessed the defamation. The second element is that the statement must be untrue. That is, publishing opinions or facts cannot be considered defamation. Thirdly, the published information must damage the reputation of a person or organization. Last, the defamation cannot consist of privileged speech, such as statements made during court proceedings.
This type of defamation refers to injurious statements made in a printed or otherwise fixed format. Libel may involve text or pictures. For example, a photograph used out of context can constitute libel. Moreover, the person publishing the statements or photographs must do so knowing that they are presenting false information. This is why newspaper editors are so careful about adhering to facts in published stories. They also carefully screen letters to the editor, choosing only those letters that do not appear to contain any libelous material.
When one person verbally accuses another of some type of misconduct, this could be considered slander. The words must be spoken where third parties can hear it, and must somehow undermine the reputation of the accused. Again, the person making the slanderous statement must know that they are spreading false information. Occasionally, hand gestures and facial expressions can also be considered to constitute libel.
Libel, Slander and Technology
The prevalence of the Internet with its endless capacity for blogs, comments and public participation, is a format ripe for both slander and libel. In fact, some comments made online may be considered either one type of defamation or the other based on the state in which the matter is being tried. Case law concerning defamation in a virtual format is constantly being updated with more people and companies being aware of their online reputation. It seems clear that the coming decades will highlight an increasing number of ways in which libel and slander may be prosecuted.