What Is Libel and How You Avoid It?
If you’re a blogger, you do have to exercise some caution in terms of what you say about people. There are many sites out there that make their money saying downright awful things about people. They generally get away with it by claiming to be parody sites. Some of them only stick to well-known public figures that have significantly less protection regarding libel and defamation than do regular people.
Libel, as a legal term, is not convenient to define. The sixth edition of the Baron’s Law Dictionary includes “unprivileged, false and malicious publication by which printing, writing, signs or pictures tends to expose a person to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule…” within its definition of the term. While you would have to speak to a lawyer to get an idea of whether or not libel law applies to something you said about somebody else or something somebody else said about you, there are some general guidelines that you can go by to try to keep yourself safe.
Was it True?
One of the first things you have to take into account is whether what you are saying is true. If you say something maliciously and that is factually inaccurate, you may expose yourself to real trouble. Particularly if the person you are criticizing isn’t a public figure and what you say about them could cause them real harm in terms of their ability to earn money or in terms of simply shaming them publicly, they may end up filing a lawsuit against you.
Online arguments are common features of the Internet. One of the things you want to keep in mind is that these arguments quickly go too far in many cases. The best bet if you have a significant beef with someone on the Internet is just to let it go and not bring it on to your blog. Remember, while your conflict with that person may be exciting to you, it’s going to be boring to most of your readers, anyway. If the war spills over into your comments section, check out the various plug-ins available for WordPress themes that can eliminate such spam automatically.
I’m Just Saying…
One of the rather childish techniques that people use online when they try to libel people is saying that they’re just giving their opinion. Or, they’re just asking questions. Neither of these things are guaranteed to hold up in court if you get dragged to court by the person you libeled. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it does matter whether you are stating something as if it were a verifiable fact, even if you’re trying to weasel your way out of it by then saying it’s only your opinion. If you do go to court, what you said will be examined to determine whether a reasonable person would think that what you were saying was intended to be regarded as a fact. This simply means it is something that can be proven or disproven and, if you didn’t choose your words wisely, you could find yourself paying out a lawsuit.
You can only get legal advice from a lawyer, but some simple practical advice can help to avoid getting nailed with libel for something you publish on your blog. One of the things to keep in mind is the term “reasonable person”. This is used all the time in civil law. If what you’re writing about something seems like something a reasonable person would not write, don’t write it. Be reasonable. If you are reasonable, treat people with respect and don’t make false claims about people, you can engage in spirited, fact-based and vigorous debate with people online without turning it into something ugly that could get you in real trouble.
Anny Solway is a dedicated writer at ThemeFuse – a leader in the premium WordPress themes area. She likes to discover new ideas about internet marketing, social media and blogging.