Are You a Victim of Anonymous Online Defamation?
In America, everyone has a right to their own opinion. That’s a basic premise of our democracy, yet the Internet has really tested its limits – due in part to the omnipresence of social media. Today we live in a world where people can anonymously post whatever comments they like to the web, even false statements about others, without facing consequences. Such statements can have severely negative effects on the life of person who they are made about, while the poster hides behind the shield of anonymity.
The question is, what can you do if you find yourself the subject of online defamation, including anonymous posts? Do you have any legal recourse to protect yourself and your reputation? In what ways might a California defamation attorney be able to help?
Online Defamation: The Dark Side of Cyberspace
Defamation is defined as a false and unprivileged statement of fact about someone, published to third parties, that causes damage. Online defamation specifically refers to such comments that are published on public websites.
It is important to note that the truth is an absolute defense against defamation—if your statement of fact is accurate, it is not defamatory. With that said, proving the truth of your statement in court can be exceedingly difficult and expensive, and in many cases comes down to a “he said, she said” type of debate.
Another important caveat is that a statement of opinion cannot qualify as defamatory. If something can be proven either true or false, then it qualifies as fact, not opinion. For example, a court will not generally treat as defamatory a statement that someone is “lazy,” because that is not something that can be definitively proven either true or false. However, simply prefacing your statement as “it’s my opinion,” will not necessarily avoid liability.
California Defamation Law
Generally speaking, to prove that a statement qualifies as defamation in California, the following three criteria must be met:
- The statement must be false for it to qualify as defamation;
- The statement must be made by any person other than the victim, to someone other than the victim;
- The statement must not be privileged (for example, made during a court proceeding, or to one’s own lawyer);
- The statement must have caused damage in some form.
Defamation per se
In California, defamation “per se” is actionable without any proof of special damage – meaning that the court will presume damage to your reputation and will ask the jury to compensate you accordingly, without your having to prove exactly how you were damaged. Defamation “per se” means that the statement is defamatory in and of itself, and cannot be thought to have an innocent meaning. One example of this is accusing someone of having an infectious disease.
Libel v. Slander
Both libel and slander are types of defamation, subject to the same rules as discussed above. Libel refers to when defamatory statements are made in writing, and slander refers to when defamatory statements are spoken.
Filing a Claim
What can be done if the defamatory comments were made anonymously—as is often the case in online matters?
It may be necessary to file what’s called a John Doe lawsuit, which means suing anonymous defendants by the fictitious name “Doe,” and then serving subpoenas (which can only be issued in the context of a lawsuit) to third parties who you believe may have information concerning the anonymous defendant’s true identity. Such third parties may include site administrators, webmasters, hosting companies, or ISPs—basically, the people who made the publication of defamatory comments possible in the first place.
To do this, you will need to enlist the services of a defamation attorney in California. If you think you’re a victim of online defamation, contact our law firm today. Our attorneys are especially knowledgeable about defamation cases, and we also provide our experiences as First Amendment attorneys. Learn more about the legal services offered by Dhillon Law Group’s team of professionals today; we can advise on potential claims and the best strategy for litigation.
Remember: Defamation is like wildfire, and damages can easily increase in a short span of time, so it is best to deal with it immediately. Please don’t hesitate to contact us today for a consultation.