Internet libel is a specific form of libel that happens on a webpage on the Internet. This type of libel can occur on just about any sort of website, including blogs, bulletin boards, and forums. It usually consists of a defamation of character from one person toward another, and is usually untrue or otherwise serves only to harm the reputation and character of another person. Internet libel is often difficult to prove in the US, since a great deal of communication is protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution and Internet legislation is still a developing area of regulation.
Sometimes also called cyber-libel or cyber-slander, Internet libel typically consists of statements made by one person about another that are untrue and serve to defame the character of the target. Libel, in general, refers to a statement that acts as a defamation of character made in writing or some other form of permanent media, typically a book, magazine, newspaper, and now on the Internet. This is in contrast to slander, which is a defamation of character that is spoken or transitory in nature, often more difficult to prove due to a lack of a lasting record.
Internet libel is typically untrue and the statement must be made as a statement of fact, not opinion, to qualify as libel. In countries that protect a person’s right to free speech, such as the US, someone can freely state an opinion, even one that defames the character of another person. A statement is typically considered libelous only if it is made as a statement of fact. Internet libel also usually has to be untrue, and a defense of truth can generally be used against a lawsuit or similar legal action against someone accused of libel.
There are exceptions to the truth defense, though these are somewhat rare. If a statement is made that is true, but serves no purpose other than to defame a person and does not benefit the common good, it could still potentially be considered Internet libel. This can be a hard case to make, however, and untrue statements made as fact on the Internet are still often the only types of communication that constitute libel. Internet libel can be especially damaging due to the way in which information spreads on the Internet; once a statement is made on a website, it can be nearly impossible for that statement to be completely removed from the Internet.