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What Is the Difference Between Slander and Defamation of Character?

Defamation of character may occur over a radio broadcast.
Slander is a type of defamation.
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  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
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Slander and defamation of character are not two distinct claims. Slander is a form of defamation. From the legal view, defamation is any language that a defendant publicizes to a third person that causes damage to a plaintiff’s reputation. Slander is spoken defamation. In contrast, libel is defamation that is written or recorded in some other permanent form.

Defamation is a tort, which means it is a legal wrong. There are numerous types of torts; defamation is just one example. Many jurisdictions allow a person to take legal action against another person for damage arising from defamation. This means the first person could file a suit for slander, if the second person speaks the defamatory language to a third person. Jurisdictions do not allow a person to sue for both slander and defamation of character because the matters are not separate.

Since slander and defamation of character are not two separate matters, a person suing for slander must prove that a defendant spoke defamatory language to a third person. Defamatory language is any language that concerns the plaintiff and negatively affects the plaintiff’s reputation. For example, defendant Derik tells Sarah that Paul is a child molester. This is defamation based on slander because Derik spoke the defamatory language to a third person, Sarah. This is not slander and defamation of character; it is only slander.

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To understand slander, it is useful to compare it to libel instead of comparing it to defamation of character. Libel is a form of defamation just as slander is a form of defamation. Libel is defamatory language in writing or some other recording of a permanent nature, such as a television or a radio broadcast. Slander is less permanent because it is only spoken defamation and is not recorded.

A defendant, even one who acknowledges that he did speak defamatory language about the plaintiff to a third person, may have legal defenses that will prevent the plaintiff from winning his suit for slander. A defendant would not need to raise defenses for both slander and defamation of character, just slander. Typical legal defenses to a defamation action are consent, truth and privilege.

Consent and truth both operate as an absolute defense against a slander claim. After all, it's not slander if Paul really is a child molester. Ordinarily, privilege protects a speaker from liability if a person speaks the defamatory language under certain conditions, such as in court, during legislative proceedings, or in executive proceedings.

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anon337862
Post 5

I have a question about internet defamation and chat rooms. Would the moderator (owner) of a chat room or Facebook group be liable if he allowed slanderous statements made by others in the group, and made no attempt to delete or otherwise remove these statements even though he was fully aware of them and is the only one with the ability to remove them (other than the person making the statements).

stl156
Post 4

@Izzy78 - I think you make a good point about the SNL skits. You did get me thinking about internet videos, though.

In the case of a celebrity, you are probably right that someone making a ridiculous video about Tom Cruise would never affect his monetarily. If anything, a lot of viral videos probably help actors.

On the other hand, think about videos that aren't aimed at celebrities. If I made a slanderous video about my neighbor and spread it around to the other neighbors or his coworkers, I can definitely see that as defamation of character. In this case, I guess it would probably fall under libel.

Since these laws have been around for a while, I wonder if there are any special additions concerning internet defamation or if that is still a grey area.

Izzy78
Post 3

@TreeMan - I think the parody issue would be part of the defamation definition. I don't think a skit on SNL ever damages a person's reputation. People watching the show know that the skits are meant to be funny.

I'm sure there are people who aren't happy with how they are portrayed, and I'm sure the show has been sued before, but at this point I think there is a pretty good precedent in place that the show can say what it wants without getting in trouble.

At the same time, I think most people would have a hard time making the point that being parodied on an internet video led to them enduring a hardship.

TreeMan
Post 2

@matthewc23 - I actually just read something about slander damages.

Like you mentioned, the person has to provide evidence of the direct monetary damage that has been done. They can also sue for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the person. At least in my state, the punitive damages can be up to $500,000 or a certain amount of the initial damage.

After reading this, I got to thinking: shouldn't there be some sort of clause in the defamation of character law that says the defamation has to be malicious toward the first person. Think about it, if every untruth about a person could be considered slander or libel, shows like Saturday Night Live or parody videos wouldn't be able to exist.

matthewc23
Post 1

So, what happens if the third person in the reasoning above tells a fourth person that Paul is a child molester? Surely that person can't be held liable, right, since they aren't making up a story, they are just reporting what they have heard. Otherwise technically, we would have to fact check every single thing we heard on the news if it was defamatory in nature.

When someone wins a slander case, what is the normal amount in damages that the person receives? I guess for an athlete or someone famous who might have lost a sponsorship, they can estimate a direct dollar value. How would a normal person decide how much the slander cost them?

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