Cyberlibel refers to unlawful or prohibited acts of libel committed through a computer system or any other similar means that may be devised in the future.

Libel, meanwhile, is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, vice, or defect (real or imaginary) or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a person or blacken the memory of one who is dead.

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what is cyberlibel

The following sections provide more information on acts considered cyberlibel.

What Comprises an Act of Cyberlibel?

A person that can be charged with committing cyberlibel must satisfy the following elements:

  • There must be an imputation of a crime, vice, or defect (real or imaginary) or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance. In simpler terms, the person should have committed a crime.
  • The imputation must be made in public, which requires that at least one other person must have seen the defamatory post, in addition to the author and the person defamed or alluded to in the material. This element simply requires a witness to the crime committed.
  • The imputation must be malicious, which means that the author of the defamatory post made it with the knowledge that it was false. Or he or she acted with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the post. This element presupposes that the person intended to cause the victim harm.
  • The imputation must be directed at a natural or juridical person or someone dead, which requires that the post must identify the person defamed or, at the very least, the person defamed is identifiable by a third person. The victim must be identifiable, either named or for his/her work.
  • The imputation must tend to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of the person defamed. The victim should have been negatively affected by the post.
  • The imputation was done using a computer system or any other similar means that may be devised in the future. Other devices, in this case, include smartphones, tablets, or any other digital means of publication.

What Makes a Person Liable for Cyberlibel?

Cyberlibel litigations punish the person who published, exhibited, or caused the publication or exhibition of a defamatory post. That includes the editor or business manager of a book, pamphlet, newspaper, magazine, or serial publication containing the libelous material. As such, cyberlibel charges apply to both the author and publisher of the post.

Cyberlibel and Defamation: What’s the Difference?

Cyberlibel is essentially the same as defamation. The only difference is that in cyberlibel, the alleged defamatory material is posted on the Internet. Defamation is also referred to as “libel,” “slander,” “disparagement,” and “defamation of character.” Defamation on the Internet can be classified as cyberlibel if the offending material is published on bulletin boards, emails, chat rooms, social media, newspapers, magazines, and the like.

What Are the Common Defenses to Cyberlibel Charges?

Five primary defenses to cyberlibel (like defamation) can be applied under the common law. These are justification, consent to the publication, fair comment, absolute and qualified privilege, and innocent dissemination.

  • Justification: This applies when the said libelous post is proven true.
  • Consent to the publication: Anyone charging another person for a defamatory post can’t win if the statement, especially a quote, was published with the plaintiff’s consent.
  • Fair comment: The person accused of libel isn’t likely to be charged if the post is more of an opinion than a statement of fact. That is especially true if the plaintiff is a public figure.
  • Absolute and qualified privilege: The accused did not have any malicious intent when he or she published the material. In most cases, publishing such posts is part of his or her job.
  • Innocent dissemination: This is related to absolute and qualified privilege in that the accused had no malice whatsoever when he or she publicized the post.

Cyberlibel is still in the beginning stages when it comes to cyberlaw. To date, no clear precedents have yet been set. Soon, however, clearer laws need to be put in place to distinguish free speech from defamation.

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