Differences between defamation, opinion, slander and libel

Regardless of which side of a lawsuit a person is on, it is vital to understand legal definitions. Cornell Law School has great information about what exactly constitutes defamation. According to the school, defamation is when one party uses speech to create emotional distress or damage the reputation of another party. 

As such, defamation encompasses many different legal fields, such as slander and libel. While those two terms are similar, there are some key differences. It is essential to be an informed citizen and learn about United States law.


Before getting into libel and slander, you should understand what an opinion is. This is a statement that no one can prove to be false or true. For example, if a customer were to write a review of a restaurant and said, “This restaurant sucks,” then that would be an opinion. The restaurant cannot take legal action against an opinion. However, if that same customer wrote, “This restaurant had rats on the floor,” then that would be defamation. In the event that statement is inaccurate, then the restaurant could pursue legal action because the statement is damaging the restaurant’s reputation. 


Slander is oral defamation. An entity has verbally spoken to another party and made untrue statements about another entity. There needs to be a third party involved in order for a statement to be slanderous. For example, a person telling a restaurant owner to his or her face when no one else is around that there were rats on the floor when there clearly were not would not be slanderous in nature. 


Libel is written defamation. One party has written something damaging and untrue about another party. This includes statements made online. In the event a party suffers from defamation, then it could take legal action. An attorney can attempt to get the injured party reparations from lost wages, emotional distress and personal humiliation.

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