What Is Slander?

Also known as oral or spoken defamation, slander is the legal term for the act of harming a person’s reputation by telling one or more other people something that is untrue and damaging about that person. Slander can be the basis for a lawsuit and is considered a civil wrong (i.e., a tort).

Key Takeaways

  • Slander is a legal term for defamation of another person or organization made verbally.
  • Slander is similar to libel, but libel appears in written form.
  • Depending on the nature of the slanderous statement and whether or not is, in fact, a false statement, there can be legal consequences for the slanderer.

How Slander Works

Slander represents the verbal or spoken version of defamation. Defamation occurs when someone’s words cause harm to another person’s reputation or livelihood. Slander is different from libel (written or broadcast defamation). Slander is considered more temporary than libel since it involves speech and is not written or published. Although broadcast typically involves spoken words, it is considered libel because, in theory, it reaches a large audience just as written words do, making it less temporary.

For slander to occur, the statement made must be presented as fact, not opinion. In addition, the statement must be made to a third party. In the case of public figures, proving slander also requires the public figure to prove the statement was made “with malice.”

Libel vs. Slander

Imagine you wrote a blog comment asserting that its author received a dishonorable discharge from the military. If the claim made in that post is false, then this certainly appears to be a case of defamation. However, if it is a true statement, there can be no claim of defamation.

Yet, even if the statement is false, the blog's owner may not care very much what people believe about their exit from the military. In such a case, their audience may also not care much, making the statement potentially not defamatory.

From a strictly legal perspective, defamatory comments are not considered libel unless they are properly published. Unfortunately for ill-intended bloggers, the term “published,” in the context of Internet communication, legally means that merely a single individual must read the offensive blog in question.

Consequently, a webmaster may be sued for libeling someone by trashing their reputation on a personal blog, if only his best pal, a colleague, or a family member consumes the defamatory words.