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When can an online post be considered defamation?

It seems as though people can post just about anything they want on social media and elsewhere on the internet, no matter how vicious and untrue. Public figures like politicians and celebrities are typically the targets of this vitriol, and many accept that it comes with the territory of being a well-known figure. However, any person or business can become the victim of posts that are untrue and pictures and videos that are altered or photoshopped.

At what point can you take legal action against a person who has posted defamatory comments or images? First, it's essential to understand what constitutes defamation. Typically, defamation is any published statement that is false and injurious to a person's or business's reputation. A statement can be considered "published" whether it's on an obscure blog or the comments section of a popular website.

If you're considering pursuing legal action, you will need to be able to show that what was said is false. If you own a restaurant, there's a difference between someone posting a Yelp review saying that their server was rude and someone saying that they saw rats running across the floor when they didn't. You probably can't prove that the server was less than attentive, but you may be able to provide evidence that your establishment doesn't have rats.

It's also important to distinguish opinion from a statement of supposed fact. You typically can't sue someone for expressing their opinion, no matter how negative it may be.

Photos and videos that have been modified to embarrass a person or entity or present them in a negative light may be cause for a defamation lawsuit. A plaintiff is more likely to win a suit over small modifications that aren't apparent and can reasonably lead people viewing the images to perceive them as accurate than obvious alterations.

You'll also need to show that you were injured by the false post. For example, did you see a drop in revenue because of something negative and untrue that was posted? If you can't show that your company was harmed, you likely won't have grounds for a suit.

If you believe that you have grounds for a defamation suit or if you're not certain, your best course of action is to consult an attorney. They can review the matter with you and advise you whether you have a viable defamation case.

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