by Alex Saitta
July 28, 2004
PickensPolitics.com read a few things from attorney websites on the internet about libel, so please keep these points in mind when posting to the message board.
Although you should be sensitive to any statements which may damage a personís reputation, not all such statements are considered defamatory as a matter of law. In general, only statements or implications of fact can form the basis of a libel suit. Types of statements that generally will not support a defamation action include:
Insults or Name-Calling: Such words are generally not considered defamatory. However, there is a long history of cases that have construed common insults as statements of fact. You could say, Joe Blow is a jerk (name calling), but donít say Joe Blow is a drunk, unless you can prove that is a fact.
Opinion: The Supreme Court has said, "Under the First Amendment, there is no such thing as a false opinion," seemingly preventing statements of opinion from serving as a basis of libel suits. Rather than saying, Joe Blow is a drunk. To be safe, you should say, ďI thinkĒ or "It is my opinion" that Joe Blow is a drunk.
Quotations: Inaccurate or edited quotations pose special problems, because the misquotation might carry its own defamatory "sting" by appearing to place the damaging statements in the plaintiff's own words. If you use a damaging quote, make sure it is accurate.
Fair Comments: Damaging comments are protected if they are based on true facts, that are accurately stated or readily available to the public. Thus, you can say, ďThe other day I saw Joe Blow driving 80 miles per hour in a 45 mile zone. He is a reckless driver.Ē If you have a speeding ticket to prove it, you are OK. If you donít, you could be opening yourself up for a lawsuit.
Public Figures: A public figure may be an elected or appointed official or someone who has stepped into a public controversy. Public figures have a "harder row to plough" than the average person since they must prove the party defaming them knew the facts they provided were false and they made them with actual malice. Proving that is difficult and makes the chance of a successful lawsuit slim for a public figure.
Private Figures: If you make a statement that you present as a fact about a private person, and it is incorrect, and it harms the personís reputation, you are liable for a lawsuit. Private figures donít have to prove malice, they just have to prove the fact you stated was wrong and it harmed their reputation or hurt their earnings potential. For that reason, comments about private individuals made on this board, will probably be removed.
The bottom line is, the goal of this board is to inform and educate people on issues relevant to the public. Keep your comments about issues or people in the public arena, stick to the facts and try not to get personal.