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What legally constitutes slander?

From our formative years in grade school to the present day, the thought of somebody talking about you behind your back is one of the most potent threats to one's confidence and sense of self. Of course, while childish gossip may be harmless, it can be legitimately detrimental when adults engage in such behavior. When the talk in question is unquestionably untrue and spreads with the intention to hurt another, it can be illegal as well.

In such cases, you may wonder what can legally constitute slander. There are a few factors that generally establish the guidelines defining slander as a legal infraction. Consider the following factors if you suspect that you have been a victim of slander at the hands of an ill-meaning entity or individual: 

Negligence and malice

One of the most important defining factors in slander is the intent of the offending party. If damaging ideas are spread through the dissemination of misinformation, it certainly may seem slanderous. In the absence of negligence or malice, though, it may not legally qualify as such. Slander typically refers to untrue information that is deliberately spread through malice or negligence.

Spread widely

You might feel, too, that disparaging workplace gossip qualifies as slanderous that can be legally acted upon. While it may sound slanderous, slander is typically established by damaging speech that is widely disseminated. Note that libel is untruth spread through a publication in print, on the internet, or through other written means that reach a wide audience. 

Damaging to person

Of course, the most basic tenet of slander is the extent to which it actively damages the life of its target. Speech that is disparaging but does no real harm to its target still may not qualify as slander in terms of the legal parameters. It is important to remember that slander carries a one-year statute of limitations, according to the Arizona State Legislature, so you should research options for recourse if you have experienced this form of defamation.

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  • MCBA | Maricopa County Bar Association
  • State Bar of Arizona
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