Oral defamation, which is also often called slander, is a malicious act of spreading untrue statements about someone or something else, in a way that is intended to cause harm or that does create harm. It is contrasted to written or recorded defamation, which is usually referred to as libel. The statements made orally could sometimes also be made in written forms if they’re impermanent, like writing a slanderous note on a scrap of paper that later gets discarded. There’s a little confusion in separating the definitions of slander and libel. Libel can also be oral, but if it is spoken, it needs to be spoken in some permanent and recorded form, such as on a television broadcast.
Principally, oral defamation is similar to malicious gossip. A person spreads an untrue story about someone or something else to others. He or she might repeat the story multiple times or address a group of people and communicate the story to them all at once. Generally, the more people who hear the libelous statements, the more damage it might be likely to cause their subjects.
In a legal setting, oral defamation usually has to proven as being injurious. There has to be some real means by which the subject of libelous statements suffered damage as a result of them. This may be easy to prove or difficult, depending on the types of statements made. Repeating to friends that a particular business, such as a restaurant, wasn’t very clean, usually wouldn’t constitute oral defamation, even if that statement is not generally true. Additionally, if a statement is opinion and clearly not presented as fact, it’s often not considered libel.
Examples of more clearly defined libel include having discussions about coworkers that impugn their reputation. Spreading a rumor that a coworker has traded sexual favors for promotions is undoubtedly damaging and could seriously impact that worker’s career. Even though oral defamation isn’t recorded, rumors often live for long periods of time and continue to spread. Gossip about classmates in junior high and high schools works in the same way and in some cases is so injurious that it is considered bullying and may be subject to criminal charges. Often, oral defamation may turn to libel as people use other media like the Internet to spread untrue statements.
A person charged with libel has numerous defenses. He can state the oral defamation was unintentional because he thought the statement was true. Alternately, he could argue that any inferences made could have been made by anyone else evaluating the situation. Another argument is that the defamation didn’t cause harm or that there was not intent to cause harm by making the statement.
Types of charges for oral defamation depend on perceived damages. Charges may be criminal or civil. Many countries treat this matter in civil courts and don’t assess any form of criminal charges, unless libel resulted in egregious physical damage.