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What is the Difference Between Slander and Libel?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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Slander and libel are both types of defamation, which refers to statements that damage another person's reputation. While there are similarities, each focuses on different types of defamation strategy. The primary difference between slander and libel is that libel is the written or otherwise printed public defamation of a person or entity, while slander is the spoken defamation of a person or entity. Slander can also include bodily gestures while libel can include published photographs.

The Elements of Defamation

Although the law as to what constitutes defamation varies by jurisdiction, there are four basic elements that must usually be shown:

  1. The statement must be "published" — meaning that someone else has heard or seen it, whether through printing, speaking, gesturing, or some other method;
  2. It must be false, not an opinion or a fact;
  3. The statement must be injurious, meaning that it causes damage to the person's reputation;
  4. It must not be privileged, or published in a situation — such as a courtroom or legislative chamber — that has specific speech protections.

What Is Slander?

Slander involves verbally maligning the reputation or activities of another individual or entity, using information that is known to be false or misleading. Typically, this will involve not only the use of specific words to damage a reputation, but also actions such as hand gestures or facial expressions in order to reinforce the misinformation that is being distributed. Any defamation that is "transitory" — in other words, not fixed in a permanent medium — is usually considered slander.

One of the easiest ways to understand slander is to consider the example of actions of an employee who is unhappy with his company's policies and procedures. At an event including employees with their spouses and partners, the disgruntled employee begins to spread untrue information about the business and its owners. As part of his remarks, the employee may state that the company owners engage in business activities that are illegal as well as unethical. Unless the employee has reliable evidence to back up these claims against the specific people identified in the statements, he could be held liable for slander.

What Is Libel?

Like slander, libel refers to statements that damage another person's reputation. The difference is that libel takes the form of printed — or otherwise "fixed" — material rather than verbal assaults. Typically, libel in the United States can involve untrue words or images that are published in print publications as well as material published on a web site.

Continuing with the example of the disgruntled employee, he may choose to leave the company and write an exposé of the owners and the company operations. The exposé includes not only the untrue information that was previously deployed verbally, but also may include photographs that were taken and then used out of context to reinforce the purported validity of the lies. This type of activity would likely constitute libel.

Slander and Libel in the Electronic Age

Laws in various nations distinguish between slander and libel somewhat differently, especially when it comes to electronic communications. Depending on the laws that prevail in a given nation, untruths that are distributed by way of radio, television, or the Internet may be classed as slander or libel. In most countries, it is necessary to establish that the individual who originated the untrue information did so with a full understanding that the comments were false and that they were disseminated with the specific intention to malign or harm the reputation of another person or entity.

Criticism vs. Slander or Libel

While the right to fairly criticize people or entities and publicly share information is one of the hallmarks of personal freedom, it is illegal in most places to malign the reputation of another through false information. Verbal comments as well as printed materials that can be supported with verifiable evidence cannot be considered defamation, even when that information does damage the reputation of another party. This is because the information is in fact the truth, and not fabrications created by someone who wishes to undermine the reputation of another through any means necessary. In other words, in some jurisdictions, the truth is a valid defense to defamation, including libel and slander.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon336743 — On May 31, 2013

My co-worker from 2008 has been stalking, slandering my and my husband's names, and our reputation, as well as harassing me in and outside the workplace. I have lost three jobs (loss of income) due to the defamation of my character. Please can anyone give advice on this matter? My peaceful life has turned to a living hell.

By anon235757 — On Dec 19, 2011

My wife's sister posted a blog about me on the web. She said a lot of things about me that aren't true and now she's trying to get it out and now she's saying she's sorry but that's not good enough.

She posted my name, my date of birth, where I'm from and my family's name. Sorry is not good enough. What she did still hurts a lot.She did scandalize my name and my reputation. What can I do? Please help.

By anon117622 — On Oct 11, 2010

i have kept telling people that I used to sleep with a lot of men which is not true. that hurts me a lot. what should i do?

By catcha46 — On Jun 23, 2010

my girlfriend has a nasty neighbor. Every night, without failing they will be saying remarks such as "my girlfriend is a prostitute, and so is her mother". This rantings must be stop! Is there anyway that this could be listed under slandering?

By anon79247 — On Apr 21, 2010

i have this person going around telling people that i liked being raped. she is calling dcyf on me and they found i have a bunch of e-mails of this lady just going on and posting things on the internet? can i do something about this?

By anon59249 — On Jan 07, 2010

My mother is going around on craigslist telling people not to hire me as their nanny and her reasoning is that i sleep all day and stay on the internet all night and flash people on webcam and uploaded "less than innocent" pictures on her computer. None of this is true and is affecting my getting work!

Is there anything i can do? my mother is not the best person in the world. she does drugs in front of her children and is on medication prescribed by a psychiatrist (sorry my spelling is horrible lol). I'm tired of her trying to ruin my life! Someone please help me! I don't know what I can do.

By deedeedonna — On Oct 10, 2008

I know this person wrote terrible things and lies about me and sent it to my employer. They know me better so they did not believe anything and the letter. How do I stop this person from continuing this?

By anon18400 — On Sep 22, 2008

To the fiance. Get out now! I have lived for 31 years with my in-laws slandering me. It is hell. I have two daughters who say I love the other one best. NO ONE is worth it. It will kill the love anyway. GET OUT of find some legal way of shutting them up. As soon as you are married the related side will go against the married partner anyway. 31 years of hell and counting

By anon15685 — On Jul 18, 2008

my fiancee's dad has been saying that my fiancee has stolen $15000 from him and his girlfriends daughter. my fiancee and i are pretty sure that his girlfriend and her daughter hacked into my fiancee's e-mail account and sent a bunch of e-mails to themselves posing as my fiancee and admitting to false crimes. his girlfriends daughter has said that she has a police report about my fiancee turning in her wallet to the police station with no money in it. we checked with the police and no such report has been filed. now her dad is saying that my fiancee and i have broken into their house boat that they have on a lake. he said that they have proof that we did it. he said that my fingerprints are on a knife they had in the boat. my fingerprints are not even in the police system. i don't have any police records. i'm sick of all these stories and want it to stop. i feel harassed. what can i do to make it stop?

ps, my fiancee changed her e-mail password and ever since the forged e-mails have stopped.

By Lsnider010 — On Jul 05, 2008

a certain someone is going around our small town telling people that i am pregnant, and i am not, I can get kicked out of my school and Lose my full scholarship for college, can i press slander charges against him?? - worried teen!

By shanita24 — On Sep 23, 2007

I have had someone dipping in a lawsuit that i have concerning the birth control patch. This person has been calling my lawyer questioning if i got a lawsuit. He have been scandalizing my name as well as my reputation.

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