The act of spreading false information about another person, group, or organization through a computer network. Libel is the act of publicly and maliciously ascribing a crime, vice, or defect (actual or fictional) to a person or disrespecting the memory of someone who is dead. Cyberlibel, like common law libel, is defamatory, shared with a third party, and directly names the victim(s). Cyberlibel poses a complex problem because cyberspace breeds libel without limit . When proven, the consequences in a court of law can be severe depending on the country.
Facts that constitute cyberlibel:
- An act, omission, status, condition, or circumstance must be ascribed with the intention of causing harm.
- The defamatory post must be seen by at least one other person besides the author and the person defamed or alluded to.
- The defamatory post must be malevolent, meaning the author knew it was false.
- The libelous information must be about a living person, a company, or a dead person, meaning the post must identify the person being defamed, or at least a third person can identify the person being defamed.
- The libelous information must be likely to make the person defamed look bad, lose respect, or be laughed at.
- The libel was carried out with the use of a computer system or some other similar technique that may be developed in the future. Smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices also fall under this category.
Common defenses to cyberlibel charges:
- Justification. This rule applies if it turns out that the defamatory post was truthful.
- Consent to the publication of the piece. If the plaintiff consented to a defamatory post, the defendant has no case.
- Fair comment. If the defamatory post is mostly opinion, the person accused of libel won’t be charged. This defense is common if the plaintiff is famous.
- Absolute and qualified privilege. The accused published the post without malicious intent because such posts are part of their job.
- Innocent dissemination. This is similar to both absolute privilege and qualified privilege in that the accused did not act maliciously when making the post public.