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Are there any differences between slander and libel?

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What dictionary do you normally use? Does it lack these definitions or are they confusing? –  S.Lott Dec 9 '10 at 20:58
    
Everywhere I go I get slandered, libeled... ♫ –  RegDwigнt Dec 9 '10 at 22:01
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@RegDwight, you always have the right lyrics to go with each question. You're like EL&U jukeboxe (sp?). –  Eldroß Dec 10 '10 at 11:09
    
@Eldros: well, not exactly "each", only three so far, including this one. –  RegDwigнt Dec 10 '10 at 11:19
    
@RegDwight it seemed to me it was more often. Oh well. *shrug* –  Eldroß Dec 10 '10 at 11:20
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2 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Slander is spoken defamation, libel is written or published defamation.

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+1 But actually, I'd say Slander is spoken defamation, whereas libel is published defamation. –  CJM Dec 9 '10 at 15:40
    
How about the word defamation? –  Yousui Dec 9 '10 at 15:53
    
I'd add that libel has often been extended to anything recorded; so if you speak it it's slander, but if someone tapes it and it's broadcast then it's libel. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 9 '10 at 16:14
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That is certainly the formal, legal definition. But I think many people are unaware of this distinction. George Bernard Shaw, for example, in The Millionairess (gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300121h.html) has his character Epifania repeatedly say "libel" when she means spoken abuse. –  Colin Fine Dec 9 '10 at 16:27
    
Given the evolving nature of communications media, should the distinction be based upon whether the communication is oral or written, or should it be based upon whether the communication is ephemeral or persistent? My inclination would be to suggest that slander is ephemeral communication, whether spoken or written on a hastily-erased marker board, etc., where the only evidence of its existence is people's memories of it; libel would be communication, whether in the form of writing or audio-transcribed speech, which supplies its own evidence for existence. Would that be a proper distinction? –  supercat Jul 27 '12 at 16:28
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Slander and libel are both forms of defamation, which is usually defined as a false or misleading statement, usually with the intent to harm somebody's reputation. Statements that are true or are genuinely believed to be true by their author would not usually be considered defamatory.

The difference is that the term "slander" refers to spoken defamation, while "libel" refers to written or otherwise recorded defamation. The law treats these differently for several reasons: written statements can last indefinitely and may be widely reproduced, greatly amplifying their power; written (and especially published) statements are usually more carefully planned out than spoken communication; and there is usually undeniable proof of written defamation (the document itself) whereas it can be much harder to prove slander.

Defamation laws vary widely by country (and in the US, by state) but usually the following factors are considered:

  • Was the statement false?
  • Was it intended to cause harm?
  • Did it in fact cause harm?
  • Was it made without adequate research into the truth?

See also: Wikipedia's article on Defamation

Amusing sidebar: There have been several cases in which celebrities have sued small-time bloggers, or even anonymous users in online forums, for libel. Whether they win or not, media coverage of the event usually results in the potentially libelous statements getting much wider publicity than they would have otherwise, usually causing much more reputational damage than the statements themselves.

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