What is 'Slander'

Oral or spoken defamation, slander is the act of harming one person’s reputation by telling one or more other people something that is untrue about that person. Slander can be the basis for a lawsuit and is considered a civil wrong (tort).

BREAKING DOWN 'Slander'

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.”

Examples of Libel and Slander

Imagine you posted a comment on someone’s blog saying that the blog’s author had been given a dishonorable discharge from the Army. That certainly sounds like a defamatory statement if it is false. Remember that truth is an absolute defense to libel and slander. But, what if the blog’s author is a well known radical anti-war and anti-government activist who doesn’t care if people think that he/she was dishonorably discharged from the Army, even if it wasn’t true? In that case, it is possible that their community simply wouldn’t care, and the posting might not be considered defamatory.

Another example might be saying or writing that someone acted unethically or dishonestly, even if the person’s conduct did not constitute a crime. Imagine if you write a comment to a magazine article on the magazine’s website, falsely accusing the article’s author of paying the interview subjects for an interview. Most reputable journalists don’t pay their subjects for interviews. It is not a crime to pay a subject for an interview, but it is generally considered unethical. Since the statement was false, it is very likely libelous.

A statement that doesn’t even involve unethical or dishonest behavior can also be defamatory. Consider if you told a bunch of co-workers that another co-worker got drunk at a professional baseball game and got thrown out of the stadium. If that didn’t happen, that statement could very well be slanderous. If this statement gets back to the co-worker’s boss, and the boss doesn’t tolerate such conduct, your co-worker’s job may be in jeopardy or might not receive a raise or might even be fired.

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