The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury

Chapter 2: What Counts As Advertising Injury?
Part 1: Slander and Libel

Both slander and libel are forms of defamation. The difference in in the delivery. Libel refers to written defamation that hurts someone's professional reputation. Slander refers to spoken defamatory statements that damage someone's professional reputation.

When using social media, you could commit either of these offenses. For instance, any time you write a tweet about someone else that could be reasonably construed as negative, you risk being accused of libel. Create a Vine where you say that a competing restaurant serves cat meat instead of chicken, and that business could file a slander claim against you.

To be considered libel or slander by a court of law, though, a statement has to meet a few requirements:

  • The statement must be false. Your best line of defense against slander and libel claims is often to prove that your statement was either the truth or an obvious parody. But proving a statement true or false can be hard. Let's say, for example, that you tweeted, "We don't support sweatshop labor, unlike [competing business's name]." Does that business actually contract with sweatshops? Is your statement just hyperbole? Can your Twitter audience tell the difference? These questions will be at the heart of any libel or slander case triggered by the post.
  • The statement must be made publicly. If there isn't an audience, there isn't a libel or slander case. That's because these offenses hinge on whether or not the defamatory statement damaged someone's reputation. If people don't know about the statement, the plaintiff can't really argue that damage was done. But if you post a derogatory statement to an audience of 10,000 Twitter followers, there's a fair chance that people read it and that it affected their opinions.
  • The statement must have caused harm to someone's professional reputation. To prove that their reputation has suffered, the plaintiff could show a decrease in sales a week after your tweet went live. They could also show that they lost their job, were demoted, were assaulted on the street, or received hate mail after the statement was made publicly.

Without these three factors, it's difficult to mount a successful libel or slander suit. Despite these hurdles, though, it's best to avoid making false statements on social media sites, which are considered public by the courts.

Next: Part 2: Copyright Infringement

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