Defamation is generally defined as the publication or broadcast of any false statement, knowingly or unknowingly by distributing second or third hand information, about an individual or business. This results in the damage of a victim's reputation or livelihood. Online defamation is the same as offline world defamation however it occurs on internet based media. These include blogs, websites, search engines, and social network forums.
Defamation can occur in two forms “libel” or “slander.” Most online defamation appears as libel through the posting of false statements and damaging claims on web pages, bulletin boards, reviews, ratings or blog posts. Twitter and Facebook are also regular platforms used to spread defamatory statements about a victim. Defamation also occurs in the form of slander when through spoken word on videos, podcasts or audio files.
In America and other parts of the world it is common to assume one can use any electronic medium to spread vile disparaging language and post blatant lies against anyone as they see fit, all under the protection of “free speech.” While many internet users believe they are free to say whatever they please online, this is untrue. The same defamation laws and regulations apply to online defamation as they do in real-world defamation. Many internet users wrongly assume that as long as a person’s name is not actually mentioned in an internet attack they can cleverly avoid prosecution. This is again not true. If it can be reasonably assumed through the context of a statement that it infers an specific individual, defamation law still applies.
Around the world there is legislation being passed with the intent to mitigate online defamation, harassment and unnecessary hateful remarks. However, in particular, for the United States and Canada, the right to free speech remains the central and most confused argument used by those fighting against needed legislation to protect victims. These people claim that by passing such laws, constitutional rights are being surrendered to the government and that by allowing this, other controls will follow. Free speech is not the right to harass, abuse, humiliate or defame another, and such activity is not protected under the constitution. In countries such as Singapore, laws are in place condemning online hate remarks and defamation and they have experienced a decrease in these behaviors without sacrificing freedom of the people, clearly demonstrating that the idea of free speech and defamation are two very separate categories and should be treated as so.