For over 20 years, social media, which is websites or applications that allow users to create and share content with friends, family, and whoever else is interested, is here to stay. From Facebook to Twitter and Instagram, social media is increasingly becoming a way many people also get their news and information. However, not all news and information on social media is vetted, meaning a lot of what is out there is incorrect. Because of America’s First Amendment rights to free speech, many people are in the habit of saying whatever they want to say — even to the detriment of others, which is illegal.
Tate Bywater is a civil litigation law firm in Prince William County and the surrounding areas, including Maryland and Washington, DC. We take defamation seriously, and if you feel you’ve been a victim of defamation, give us a call today for a free consultation. Are you unsure if you’ve been defamed? Below, we’ll explain what defamation is and what your rights are under the law. Contact our civil litigation lawyers today!
WHAT IS DEFAMATION?
Defamation is a false statement, either spoken or written, that causes harm, injury, or damage to a person’s reputation or to a business’s reputation. Defamation is often called defamation of character when something untrue is stated as fact about a person. Defamation can be vile and hateful and done intentionally to cause harm to someone. Consequences of lies spread can mean losing a job or closing up your business. Defamation is a very serious crime, which Tate Bywater can help you defend.
WHY IS DEFAMATION ILLEGAL?
Defamation laws have been around since the Middle Ages in England. It was around pre-1300s but the records are obscure, and they mostly involve the Church. Saying untrue or hurtful statements about the king and queen in England has always been technically against the law before there were laws. After all, you risked losing your head — literally — if you said anything against the king. Nobles got in on the action as well who were defamed with such damaging accusations of having second marriages, which was a very serious crime at the time (akin to marital infidelity).
However, with few lawmen and much more pressing crimes such as theft and murder to contend with, defamation was not a top priority. Furthermore, with the dominance of the Church, the Church was the one to handle any defamation cases since they were mostly spiritual in nature. Penance was the punishment for being convicted of defamation.
Finally, with the Renaissance and a rebirth in thinking, defamation came to full fruition in 1507 in England where words accusing someone of a crime, of being incompetent at their job, and of having a particular disease were considered defamation.
Suddenly, the courts were overwhelmed with defamation cases to the point they had to further clarify the law, saying that real damage had to have occurred to someone’s reputation, jokes were inactionable, and ambiguity could not be processed.
Tate Bywater notes that defamation law has existed in the United States since before the American Revolution. However, because of our First Amendment, defamation was extremely hard to prove (and still is) because we are all entitled to state our opinions. The difference is when opinions are stated as facts.
Zenger’s Case in 1735 is widely regarded as the beginning of defamation law in the United States. This court case involved a newspaper publishers, John Zenger, who was critical of the governor of New York. The governor sued Zenger, who was acquitted because he used truth he did not commit defamation, which is still abided by today.
Did you know that defamation began as criminal law? Tate Bywater notes that the Sedition Act of 1789 formalized defamation and made it a crime to criticize the federal government (could you see that happening now?). Interestingly, several Democratic-Republicans did end up being tried and convicted under this act. The act, however, expired, and defamation was moved to civil court.
Finally, in 1964, the United States Supreme Court got involved in the case New York Times v. Sullivan. There is now a balance between free speech and defaming someone’s character. This has become necessary in our connected world where social media exists and public officials are now in the limelight and frequently attacked with words.
Tate Bywater in Vienna notes that to prove defamation in a court of law, you must prove:
- A published or broadcast false statement about the plaintiff was made.
- Material harm was caused to the plaintiff by this falsehood.
- The false statement was made with intentional malice and was meant to cause harm.
WHAT IS SLANDER AND LIBEL?
Slander and libel are the same thing as defamation; they are just specific words for the two different types of defamation:
- Slander is defamation that is spoken.
- Libel is defamation that is written.
HOW TATE BYWATER CAN HELP
Words are extremely powerful, and in this day and age, we cannot afford to let anything slip. Moreover, once said or written, they cannot be retracted. There is also a pervading current of unforgiveness, meaning that something you said 20 years ago when you were a teenager is dug up and presented for all to see when you become successful, and there can be no clemency. One has to be extremely careful about the words they use and remember that anything you say can come back to haunt you.
Tate Bywater represents those who believe they have been a victim of defamation. Our civil litigation lawyers also will help those who are claiming they defamed someone else. Our expert legal team is licensed in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. We have three offices to conveniently serve you. We take pride in helping our clients defend themselves or get what they are deserve if they have been injured or harmed, physically, emotionally, or character-wise.
Tate Bywater offers a myriad of legal services besides civil litigation. We also offer bankruptcy, business and corporate law, criminal and traffic law, family law, healthcare provider, person injury whistleblower, real estate, and estate planning. For over 40 years, we’ve been serving Prince William County and the surrounding area. Contact us today for your free consultation!