Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slander, Libel, and Defamation of Character, Oh My!

As a long-time writer/blogger/whatever who's been engaged in more than one instance of intensely provocative writing, there's been the occasion when someone crazy thought that something I wrote was about them (even when it wasn't) or someone they know/care for (even when it wasn't) and that it constituted: slander, libel, defamation of character (again, even when it wasn't) and decided they'd try to engage in frivolous lawsuits to seek recompense -- AKA revengeance.

But, per usual, these accusations hardly merited the time it took to click "delete" on each & every message that graced my spam folder. And that was that. However, it did raise the issue in my mind that John Q. Public may not know what slander, libel, or defamation of character actually ARE.

So, in my typical fashion, let me edumacate ya'll huddled masses yearning for more of my tiresome rhetoric.

SLANDER. Noun. In law: defamation by oral utterance rather than by writing, pictures etc. Slander is something spoken which is could be construed as 1) untrue, 2) to cause people to disassociate from the slandered, and/or 3) is said with the intent to cause tangible harm.

So when people have accused me of slander in my writing, all they accomplish is making me laugh at their ignorance.

Seriously! I've gotten emails from peeps I hardly know anymore who nigh-on stalk me in order to let me know that I never wrote such-n-such malicious things about them or someone they care about and now I'm going to be getting sued for slander. (Not one of these fools made good on their threats though.)

Oh the hilarity!

Moving on...

LIBEL. Noun. In law: defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any other form other than by spoken words or gestures. Regarding writers, libel must be written. It does follow similar rules for slander though -- 1) untrue, 2) cause people to disassociate from the libeled, and/or 3) has the intent to cause tangible harm.

Now, as a professional writer I am well acquainted with libel laws. In fact, I write my blog-posts deliberately with them in mind. I create fake names, change certain identifying details, and publish my good-faith intentions that I make every attempt to protect the privacy of the people I write about.

But being the strikingly sarcaustic writer that I am, my colorful commentary will undoubtedly strike the nerve of some sad character with a sordid past possibly fictionalized anonymously in my posts. Usually though it's just someone with a guilty conscience who matches the generalized ish that I write about. They get upset, cry bloody murder, make with the saber-rattling, and then go out like a punk when they realize that I wasn't writing about them, and that even if I was, there's nothing they could do because nobody but they will ever, ever know.

(This is why you should not, as a rule, anger writers. We will eviscerate you in print. Look at what happened to Woody Allen's exes.

The only way I could imagine anyone proving anything written was about them when a writer has taken the proper precautions is by outright saying the writer wrote about them, thus incurring the consequences for their own deeds and then making it perfectly legal for the writer to admit it -- with no legal repercussions because what they wrote has been proved to be the truth!



Full Disclosure. I have been accused of this, though never charged or taken to court. However, I have always endeavored to never deliberately cause harm with my writing, nor have I. In fact, quite the opposite, I consistently utilize my writing to accomplish positive things, whether in my personal life or the lives of those around me.

But, sadly, good intentions do not always bring good results. As such, malicious people have attempted to instigate shit against based on no evidence and a plethora of irrationality.

Defamation of character is notoriously difficult to prove in court, and even more difficult to prosecute. Opinions, insults, critiques, and other related statements, whether written or spoken do not constitute defamation of character, and cannot be prosecuted.

However, bloggers must be wary of what they write for there have been recent attempts to curtail their -- at times -- unrestrained activities, as well as those of cyber-bullies and other scumbags.

Take it from me, do not write about people you know, associate with, or see on a regular basis without taking measures to protect yourself. If you must write about them (and, let's face it, sometimes we need to write about the people in our lives, and it often becomes our best work!) always write as opinion, fictionalize certain details, change names, include disclaimers, and never get cocky because you'll make a mistake and end up owing big.

In my experience however, nothing I have ever written has ever fulfilled any of the requirements for slander (obviously), libel, or defamation of character.

Conversely, there was an instance where someone who claimed I had slandered, libeled, and defamed them + their significant other decided that since what I did was "illegal" he'd send a letter regarding the issue to my employers, ex-employers, and organizations I work(ed) with. The funny thing was -- this guy didn't realize that while the story I wrote which he believed to be about him and his SO wasn't illegal, while sending those letters is classic defamation of character!

And how did I know this? Because he CC'd me everything, like a dumbass, so I could sue him if I decided to. Luckily for him, I'm not a Dick like he is, and merely ignored what happened. Especially since no tangible harm occurred from his foolish actions.

As a rule, I tend to eschew drama in my personal life. But it does make for good stories, and as a writer/collector of stories, I'll always have a morbid fascination for the drama that mysteriously revolves around me on random occasions.

Anyhoo, I hope ya'll enjoyed this brief foray into the mindset of a professional writer.


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