Spreading information that isn’t true about someone is a form of defamation. But the way that the information spreads can make it either slanderous or libelous. Keep reading to learn the difference between slander and libel – and how the consequences of both can be costly.
Difference Between Slander & Libel: Types of Defamation
The Main Difference Between Slander and Libel
False statements that cause damage to a person’s reputation are covered under defamation law. These statements are divided into two categories: slander and libel. Knowing whether someone is guilty of slander or libel can help you build your case.
The legal difference between libel and slander is:
slander (n) - the act of knowingly making a verbal false statement in public.
libel (n) - the act of knowingly making a written false statement in public.
Both words can also be used as verbs when talking about the action of defaming someone. When describing actions as a type of defamation, you can use the adjectives slanderous and libelous.
Examples of Slander
Slander comes from the French word esclandre, which means scandal in English. To slander someone is to put them into a state of dishonor – a scandal.
Slander is different from everyday gossip. People who spread gossip may or may not know if the information is true. They also don’t spread gossip with the intention of hurting someone or damaging their reputation, which would make it slander. Here are some examples of slander and their consequences:
Discouraging a colleague from hiring your ex-employee by telling them that the employee broke company rules during their employment, leading to them not getting the job
Claiming that a restaurant purposely served food with spoiled ingredients, which results in the restaurant being closed
Saying that you are the victim of a crime that didn’t occur, leading to an investigation into an innocent person
Spreading lies about a person’s lack of experience or education, allowing others to believe that they are not competent enough for their job
Accusing someone of having an affair, resulting in their spouse leaving them
Saying that someone is neglecting their children, which causes their children to be taken away
Any of these cases might have legal consequences depending on how a court saw each side. For more information, check out an article that includes famous and historical examples of slander.
Examples of Libel
Unlike slander, libel does not come from a word that indicates dishonor. Its roots are in the Latin word libellus, which means “pertaining to the written word.” In today’s world, posting untrue statements on social media are technically considered libelous, as they are publicly posted.
Some scenarios involving libel include:
Writing a letter to the editor that wrongly accuses a neighbor of a crime, resulting in them being investigated by police
Posting a blog entry about a classmate cheating on a test, causing them to lose a scholarship
Printing a news story about a political figure with incorrect facts, damaging their standing in the polls
Creating a poster that accuses an ex-spouse of withholding child support when they haven’t, causing the court to look into garnishing their wages
Posting a rumor on social media about a colleague being intoxicated at work that leads them to lose their job
Writing a supposedly nonfiction book that claims a family member was abusive, causing people to cut relationship ties with that person
Even though both charges are significant, libel has historically been seen as more serious than slander because it’s harder to accomplish and easier to prove. However, the details of legal consequences depends on the situation and the opinion of the court.
Consequences of Defamation
Someone who makes slanderous or libelous statements about another person may be sued for damages in a lawsuit or even go to jail. They are especially open for legal ramifications if the justice system finds they made the statement with the malicious intent to cause harm to someone’s reputation.
Brush Up On Legal Definitions
Slander and libel are important to know as types of defamation. If you’ve got more questions about legal terms and abbreviations, check out a resource that includes a lengthy list of relevant legal definitions.