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What Is Slander?

Slander is a lie that can hurt a person or an organization’s reputation. It is considered a “spoken” form of defamation of character, though gestures (such as sign language) are also included. Unlike libel (which covers videotapes or printed articles), slander is transitory.

If a person feels that he has been slandered, he can take the case to civil court in a “defamation of character” lawsuit. However, he must prove the case, presenting witnesses that overheard the statement. The person must also prove that the statements were made with malicious intent to ruin his reputation or bring down a company. If he wins the case, he can get general damages for experienced emotional trauma, and special damages for any financial loss incurred. It is harder, though, to prove financial loss.
Some statements, however, are outrightly considered as slanderous because of their obviously negative effect on somebody’s reputation. These include accusations that a person is incompetent or unfit to do his job, has participated in criminal acts, has an unsavory disease, or has participated in immoral sexual acts (especially if the plaintiff is female, and feels that her virtue has been put into question).

The court, however, also looks into the extent of damage caused by the slanderous statement, in the form of the number of people who have heard and potentially believed it. That is why libel cases often receive more damages, because the permanent form of videotapes and the wide reach of mass media like television and newspapers can really ruin a person’s reputation overnight. Slanderous statements, on the other hand, have a more limited audience— and because of the temporary nature of the statements, they are much harder to prove.

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