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What is Cyberlibel?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cyberlibel is a catchphrase for defamation that takes place through the Internet, either on messageboards, email, blogs, chatrooms, personal websites, or other published articles. Defamation, in real life, means that someone has communicated a false and damaging statement to a third party that does verifiable harm to the defamed person's reputation. Since cyberlibel occurs over cyberspace, it raises legal issues of free speech, public figures, opportunities to refute the statements, and anonymity that may warrant new laws and regulation.

Traditionally, libel occurring through newspapers, magazines, fliers, or letters, made distinctions between a public and private figure. That is, a public figure such as a politician has less of an expectation of privacy regarding his or her activities. Also, it is easier for him or her to publicize their response or defense to damaging information to correct the public's opinion. Yet an individual who is not in the public eye has a greater protection of their reputation. Since they cannot easily reach the people who have learned misinformation, they're more likely to win a libel case.

The difference with cyberlibel is that it effectively makes otherwise private figures public, by way of websites that many people access. Also, libel laws are determined by state and jurisdiction, but there are no geographical limits to information on the internet. Analysts studying cyberlibel only have a few United States cases on which to base their opinions, and those cases are contradictory. For instance, they comment on the responsibility of an original writer, such as a blogger, versus a distribution outlet, such as a host server or messageboard that might or might not have control over editing.

Cyberlibel laws are still in flux all over the world. Some systems believe that the internet is a unique medium for free speech and democratic dissemination of information, while others want the web regulated like other publishing mediums, like newspapers. Some cite how easy it is to correct the record by posting your own blog entry, article, or messageboard response that reduces the need for legal protection of your reputation. Others want internet service providers to take more responsibility and liability for the quality of information posted through their hosting. We may need to wait decades for these questions to acquire a judicial precedent in the United States.

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Discussion Comments

By jory — On Feb 13, 2012

My 21 year daughter, who is in a wheelchair, belongs to a private message board for an actor where she and others discuss gossip. Things were quiet, so she decided to create a stir. She sent in a false sighting to E! who printed it. She also pretended to be an insider and made nice comments about him, and his actress girlfriend, and she sent a not so nice one.

My daughter isn't a bad kid. She's a lonely one and I've talked to her about never doing that again.

Do I have to worry about this actor and actress suing me? Should I contact an attorney? Even though she isn't a threat to them, she did lie and it did end up being printed. I am a little worried about this. Thank you!

By anon230104 — On Nov 17, 2011

My ex girlfriend sent photos and a letter showing my new girlfriend on various web sites that are, shall we say, "suggestive web sites". They are both straight and gay web cam sites. There was no nudity on the site of her other than a bum shot, but no face was shown of that photo or of her.

In the letter, it was stated how to get to these web sites and her screen name. It was sent to my parents and sister as well as to a couple of friends and her work.

She is on various web sites and once you Google the screen name, the sites come up and this was told to my family and her work.

What kind of recourse does she have or do I have? These web sites and screen names are out there in the public domain for all to see if you knew her screen name. Now all my family knows what she does on the internet, as well as her work.

She has been on these sites for years and I knew about them, but now my family and her work are aware. Even though it's in the public domain and other people knew she was on them all this time, is there anything that can be done and what are her legal rights?

By anon214699 — On Sep 15, 2011

anon49166, I don't believe your daughter-in-law committed cyberlibel in the strictest sense. She's definitely guilty of showing poor taste when it comes to personal identifiers on Facebook, but visitors to her FB page aren't likely to make the bigger connection from her "b" addendum to the family name as a whole. It may be embarrassing for other family members to read, but it doesn't diminish or damage the family name in the long term.

Since there are probably thousands of people around the world with that same family surname, it would be difficult to prove she caused any real damage. What she chooses to call herself on a social network does not reflect on the character of any other family members.

@anon4161: I'd say he didn't have much of a legal leg to stand on in this situation. He must have recognized himself through your friend's online description of events, but he couldn't prove in court that *anyone else* did. He got angry and lashed out at the people he could identify from that blogsite. Of course he's going to make it sound like he can sue you for everything you've got, but in order to do that he'd have to reveal his own identity to the world and explain his side of what sounds to be a terrible story. I don't think he'd be too eager to own all that just to take legal action against you or anyone else who commented. In the future, however, I'd suggest using completely false names when referring to real people who did bad things. If the real person recognizes himself or herself in the blog entry, so be it.

By anon157525 — On Mar 03, 2011

Answer to question 1: no it's not libel. I am in the same position. i took a trader to court and won, then I posted the outcome online - facts - and warned others about the trader. He - not surprisingly - threatened to take legal proceedings against me. Fat chance. I have reported truths. He just doesn't like it! Don't be intimidated by cowboys and con men - warn others but stick to the facts and you will be OK.

By anon76106 — On Apr 09, 2010

Cyberlibel? Sure! (stop trying to legislate the internet.) Here's some cyberlibel: The MPAA supports terrorism! Last year, they also donated nearly 140 million U.S. dollars to hate groups. Did I mention they think the germans should have won World War II? (MPAA doesn't support these things, but they might as well.)

By ballgunner — On Apr 07, 2010

I am the married waitress who just posted the previous post. Another slanderous post just went on craigs list putting down the business and server again. But this time they ended the post with-- P.B answer your calls. those are the initials of the previous owner who went to jail last year for hiring underage prostitutes. His wife now owns the place.

By ballgunner — On Apr 07, 2010

I am a married waitress who works at one of three chinese restaurants on a street. A post appeared on my local craigs list's rants and raves about a married server that likes to hook up with their customers and give them full service anytime- and she performs later on in the evening for big tippers. chinese food and free dessert later.

Well, my boss came in the next day and threatened to fire me. I told her it wasn't about me. But she said some really bad things about my character.(She knows very little about me). Well, the next day I was off, but more went on craigs list. It said a crew of guys went over to check out the server, but it was so packed with men trying to meet her they couldn't get a seat.

What do I do if I get any more flack from my boss? P.S. There is only one other server and she's not a looker.

By anon49166 — On Oct 18, 2009

my daughter-in-law referred to herself as a b*tch, but her married name (mine) is attached to her facebook page. has she libeled/slandered the family name even though she labeled herself a b*tch?

By anon47787 — On Oct 07, 2009

I am a small hobby breeder of dogs. I have enjoyed a very good reputation for many years. Recently I have started showing my dogs and winning a great deal and this has brought me under the microscope of my competition. All of a sudden lies have been posted on a very public message board. Basically a smear campaign. Truths are also being told but being twisted in such a way to put me in a bad light. I have posted to defend myself but then my responses just get twisted as well. (For example if I respond then I’m being defensive about someone’s “opinion,” if I don’t respond then they must be right about me.) I don’t have the time to keep defending myself against the negative postings these individuals have to keep up their smear campaign and unfortunately people believe what they read on a message board rather than facts (I mean why would a stranger write bad stuff about someone else unless it is true). The consequences of their actions could and has already greatly affected my reputation and the success of my hobby. Is there any consequence or can anyone (i.e. board administrator) not be held accountable for lies being told or innuendos being posted on their message board?

By anon46190 — On Sep 23, 2009

all you people need to chill out. do some research on cyber libel and come back later. -Marj and Gabriel

By anon28809 — On Mar 22, 2009

A cyberbully on an open debate forum accused me of being a terrorist sympathizer, do I have a case against this bully?

By diamond666 — On Dec 30, 2008

i am having problems on a site. some one in there is making fake profiles impersonating me and talking trash to the people in the near me chat room. and is giving males in there my phone number. also this person is saying lies about me. what can i do.

By anon4161 — On Oct 05, 2007

My friend recently posted a blog stating the events of a bad night she had with a fiend. apparently things turned violent. I read the blog and posted a comment about the situation and what I thought about it. I NEVER said the guys name. And in her blog she only refers to him by his first name. He sent me and our other friend who commented on the blog a message threatening to sue me for defamation of character and harassment if I didn't take the comment down. He said that what she posted is not what happened and if I don't comply he will take me to court. He says he's got the money to do it, and he'll sue me for all I'm worth and put me in the poor house for the rest of my life. People tell me he doesn't have a case since she never stated his full name and I never said his name at all. Is this true or does he have a case?

By confused57 — On Aug 26, 2007

I was recently in a domestic violence situation where I was abused physically and emotionally, its a long story but this is the second time this has happened and both times got a slap on the wrist. I have a blog on myspace where i write my thoughts. My ex has found that page and printed off my blog comments and is going to try to use them in court saying i slandered him. What can i do about this??

By Mlsb — On Jun 17, 2007

I have a question concerning cyberlibel.

In the event that a person has a horible experience with a hired contractor and posts statements to a website warning others to avoid business with said contractor, is this cyberlibel? Keep in mind all statements are fact. Where is the line?

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