Can I file a lawsuit for online defamation if someone is spreading false information about me?

Question

Can I file a lawsuit for online defamation if someone is spreading false information about me?

Answer

Yes. If someone is going online and making false statements about you, those statements can rise to the level of defamation, if certain requirements are met. (Note: There is no such thing as "online defamation" in terms of a distinct legal claim. Defamatory statements that are posted online are considered "libel," which is simply defamation that occurs in writing -- and online posting or publication counts as "in writing.")

So, what requirements do you need to meet in order to being a successful claim for defamation? The elements vary from state to state, but in general, you'll need to be able to show that the defendant (the person you are suing) made a false statement about you that was published, that you suffered some sort of harm as a result, and that the defendant's statement wasn't subject to some special privilege that insulates the speaker from liability for defamation. (Learn more about proving harm in defamation lawsuits.)

Keep in mind that your case may come down to whether or not the defendant's statements could be construed as opinion, since opinions cannot for the basis of a defamation lawsuit. The statement must be offered as a fact -- such as "John has submitted false information on his tax returns for the last decade" -- and it must be false. So, if John has in fact submitted false information to the IRS for the past 10 years, then a defamation lawsuit filed over this statement will necessarily fail.

In order to build your defamation case when the statement was made online, one of the first things you should do is preserve evidence of the statement. Do this by taking screenshots or printing out the screens where the statement was posted, and gather evidence that links the defendant to any screen name that may have been used to publish the statement.

by: , J.D.

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