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What are the Differences between Libel, Slander, and Defamation?

January 10th, 2020 differences between libel slander and defamation


Libel, slander, and defamation are often misused words. Often, you hear these words used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. But they don’t. Here, we review the key differences between libel, slander, and defamation.

These are legal words, so their definitions matter.

Given that these crimes are different, the scale or degree of punishment is not always the same. Moreover, as a candidate training to become a police officer in the United States, it’s essential that you know these fundamental terms.

Remember – on the police written exam, you may be asked questions that include these terms. Second, you may be asked questions related to how these words are spelled. Third, you may also encounter these definitions as part of police interview questions. So yes, these terms are important.

Let’s go through each of these terms, in turn, identifying what they mean and how they are used from a legal vantage point.

What is “Defamation”?

Defamation is a term used to describe false statements that are attributed to another person – causing reputational damage to that person.

For example – “Paul is a thief” is defamatory if the statement is false and if it is spread to other people, causing damage to Paul’s reputation.

If the statement is true, then it is not defamation.

Furthermore, the person making the false claim must have:

  • Known it to be false, but released the statement anyway
  • Released the statement with a total disregard for the truth
  • Negligently released the false statement

If Paul is told this statement in private, then it is not defamation.

Furthermore, opinions are not the same as defamatory statements. Making the claim that “Bernard is boring” is not defamation. It is a subjective matter of opinion. Making the claim that “Bernard is a rapist” when there is no evidence to suggest that he is, whilst making that claim to other people, is false and damages Bernard’s reputation. Therefore, he can now file a defamation lawsuit.

What is “Libel” and “Slander”?

Libel and slander are different types of defamation.

Both libel and slander cause unjustified reputational damage to another person:

  • Libel – when the defamatory statement is made in print, such as in newspapers.
  • Slander – when the defamatory statement is spoken orally.

If a magazine publishes a false and damaging statement – whether in print or online – about a public figure, for example, they may be found guilty of libel. If an individual makes a public statement that causes reputational damage to another person, they may be found guilty of slander. Both libel and slander involve defamatory statements.

Damaging Effects of Defamation

Defamatory statements have the potential to cause immense damage to another person, and these damages may be compensated for in a court case. For example, damages may include:

  • Loss of wages/income – even though an individual may be found innocent, they may find it difficult to find work due to any public bias that has now permeated through society.
  • Permanent damage to an individual’s reputation – for example: if they are falsely accused of child sexual abuse.
  • Mental anguish and suffering – which may link back to taking time off work; loss of income etc.
  • Permanent humiliation, either locally or nationally – this is particularly true for public figures or celebrities.

Candidates training to become police officers in the United States should be fully attuned to the differences between libel, slander, and defamation.

These crimes are common and widespread, and you should have the knowledge to establish and identify which of these crimes have been committed. In an earlier article, we talked about the differences between murder and manslaughter. Take a few minutes to check that out, too!

Be sure to visit our blog soon for more great content on criminology, police vocabulary and all-things related to the police officer exam. At Police Test Study Guide, we bulletproof your exam success.


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