Self-described “expert witness and litigation consultant” Nicholas Carroll published a think-piece on the darker side of defamation. Carroll’s stance, in a sound byte? Slander and libel ruins lives. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Carroll does appear to advocate for defamation reform and floats the idea of “sane legislation” that better compensates wronged parties.So, does he have a point? Do we need to rethink our defamation laws?
The Most Defendant-Friendly Defamation Laws In The World
The United States has the most defendant-friendly slander and libel laws in the world. And yes, austere rules means legitimately wronged parties can sometimes find themselves without legal recourse — not to mention a lifetime’s worth of unwarranted social suspicion.
This raises several questions:
- Are U.S. libel laws an example of the greater good out-weighing a few unfortunate situations where the bad guys win?
- Are such situations an unavoidable side effect of valuing free speech?
- Or, do we need to consider the compound effects of digital communications and change online libel laws accordingly?
Here’s the thing: free speech is practically sacrosanct; tweaking U.S. defamation standards is a slippery, Everest-sized, First Amendment slope. Our slander and libel laws rightly cling to caution’s side, in favor of the defendant.
But as a result, winning defamation lawsuits in the United States isn’t easy; plaintiffs need rock-solid — no, titanium-solid — cases.
The potential upside of filing a defamation claim? Damage awards can be gigantic — especially in recent years. As Carroll explains, jury awards are rising, not only to compensate for financial setbacks (lost wages or customers on account of the defamation), but also for emotional distress.
The potential upside of filing a defamation claim? Damage awards can be gigantic — especially in recent years.
10 Conversation Starters About Defamation
Regardless of where you stand on the status of our country’s slander laws, Carroll raises some arguments worth considering (even if you don’t agree with his position).
- “Loose lips or poison pens had pushed them over the brink to abnormal behavior.” That’s how Carroll described some defamation victims with whom he has corresponded. It speaks to the potentially devastating nature of slander and libel. Lately, judges and juries are recognizing just how detrimental defamation can be — and they’re starting to hand down large damage awards.
- “Dealing with defamation rationally is the exception because defamation is rarely rational.” In this quote, Carroll points out the fundamental paradox of slander and libel situations, for plaintiffs. He also describes defamers as “not only …clinical psychopaths and semi-functional sociopaths, but apparently normal people who have too much time on their hands, best summed up by philosopher Eric Hoffer, ‘People mind other people’s affairs when their own affairs are not worth minding.’”
- Carroll chose a popular trope (of uncertain — but exalted — origins) to explain the viral nature of Internet defamation, cautioning, “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth can put on its pants.”
- Studies suggest that only 5% of defamation victims can handle the emotional fallout of slander and libel, rationally.
- The so-called Streisand effect stops people, who’ve legitimately been defamed, from taking legal action.
- Carroll identified homeowners associations, K-12 schools, churches and the small business world as hotbeds of defamation.
- Due to more training, Fortune 500 companies are more likely to “damn by faint praise” and less likely to find themselves in the middle of a defamation battle — with either employees or competitors.
- Suicide is a very real consequence of defamation.
- Carroll controversially argues that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act “gives far too much license to blogs and social media — without the responsibilities imposed on mainstream media.”
- Carroll contends that false accusations are more traumatic than actual bad deeds. He explains: “To compare reality and defamation, which one is more traumatic . . . to accidentally run over your neighbor’s dog and kill it, or be falsely accused of running over your neighbor’s dog? After 14 years of speaking to defamation victims, that’s a no-brainer: being falsely accused is far more traumatic. Killing a neighbor’s pet will distress any normal person, and they will occasionally think about it even years later. On the other hand, the normal human will immediately call the dog’s owner, or take the dog to a pet clinic themselves, and history will read ‘. . . it really broke them up . . . they drove the dog to a clinic, but it was too late.’ Being falsely accused of it can become a running psychic sore, a daily source of stress every time you get a cold look from a neighbor, or the ‘Oh, you’re the one who . . .’ look from someone you just met. When the story is fictitious, there’s no record of you driving the dog to the hospital, because the accident never happened. And where there is no crime, no alibi is possible.”
Connect With A Defamation Lawyer
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Carroll, N. (2016, March 22). Defamation of Character: The Road to Emotional Meltdown. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-carroll/defamation-of-character-t_b_9520124.html