What Is the Difference Between Slander and Libel?

Libel refers to written defamatory statements, while slander occurs when the defamatory statements are spoken, states FindLaw. Both of these offences fall into the category of defamation, which is the legal term for damaging and untrue statements about an individual or organization.

A defamation action generally requires proving four separate elements, according to FindLaw. A plaintiff must first show that a defendant actually made false statements and that the statements were shared with a third party without permission. The third element requires proof that the defendant acted negligently by publishing or repeating the statements. Finally, some cases require proof of special damages. Written and verbal comments about people that might harm their reputation and consequently deter others from associating with them, or lower their standing in their community, are considered defamatory.

Courts generally have no absolute standard for determining what statements are defamatory, because opinions vary from one person to the next, explains FindLaw. Context is an important consideration in determining defamation, so even identical statements may not be considered defamatory in all circumstances. Even statements that don't refer to a plaintiff by name, or those that are specifically intended to be fictional, may still constitute defamation. In certain cases, defamatory statements about a class or a group of people are held to be defamation of an individual within that group.