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When does your social media post become libel? Take this quiz to find out!
1. Only celebrities can sue for libel.
Incorrect. Anyone is able to sue for false and defamatory statements made about them. The difference between celebrities and politicians and your average Joe is in the standard they have to meet to prove libel.
Correct! Libel laws offer protection to everyone from false and defamatory statements. The standards are different for private persons, limited-purpose public figures, and all-purpose public figures.
2. Select each of the following who would be considered an all-purpose public figure? (Note: There could be more than one correct answer)
Correct! She is so famous that she is basically a household name.
A local television news anchor
Incorrect. The actions of a local television news anchor would not be important to people outside that community.
Correct! As a professional athlete who has been to the Superbowl numerous times, Tom Brady’s actions would be newsworthy.
Your best friend
Incorrect. Unless your friend is in a position of power and influence over the public, your best friend is a private figure.
Incorrect. Greta would be a limited-purpose public figure. She was a private person who entered the spotlight while protesting a matter of public concern.
3. Which of the following is NOT an element of libel?
The statement was published.
Incorrect. This is a required element.
The published words were about the person claiming libel.
Incorrect. The published statement must be about the person suing for libel.
The statement was false and defamatory.
Incorrect. The published statement must be false, and it must harm the person the statement was made about.
The person making the statement must personally know the person the statement was about.
Correct! This is NOT a requirement of libel.
The person making the statement is at fault.
Incorrect. This is a requirement for libel.
4. Can a website like Twitter or Facebook be held responsible for a user’s libelous statement?
Incorrect. Websites like these are passive publishers and generally not responsible for the statements of the users.
Correct! The Communications Decency Act, which is a federal law, protects websites that are passive publishers of content. But note, if the website is made aware of the libelous comment and does nothing about it, the website can be held liable for the libelous statement.
5. Some people CANNOT sue for libel.
Correct! This is known as being “libel proof.” This occurs when someone is so infamous (famous for bad reasons) that almost everyone is expected to say something negative about them.
Incorrect. When the public as a whole has such a negative opinion of a person, that person cannot bring a libel lawsuit because a negative comment about them would not harm their reputation.
6. Which of the following could be a defense to a libel lawsuit? (Note: There could be more than one correct answer)
The statement was a joke
Incorrect. Even if the person who published the statement was joking, the statement could still be libelous.
The statement was someone's opinion
Correct. If the published statement is someone’s opinion and not based on facts, the statement is not libelous.
The statement was true
Correct. Truth is an absolute defense. Remember, the statement being false is a required element.
The statement was a hyperbole
Correct. A statement that would be understood as an obvious exaggeration is less likely to be considered libelous.
7. Which of the following would NOT count as damage caused by a potentially libelous statement about a private figure?
The person’s reputation is negatively affected.
Incorrect. This would be helpful to prove damages.
The person’s social contacts are affected.
Incorrect. The interference with social contacts would help prove damages for a libelous statement.
The person loses followers online.
Correct! The loss of followers on social media is not likely to prove damages for a private figure’s libel lawsuit. This would, however, work if the person is an “influencer,” but that person would not be a private figure.
The person loses their job
Incorrect. The loss of a job based on a libelous statement would serve as proof of damages.
8. A person can sue for libel based on defamatory spoken statements.
Incorrect. False and defamatory statements that are spoken would be slander.
Correct! A required element of libel is publication to at least one other person. Libel is for false and defamatory written statements.
9. Journalists and the media receive some additional protection against (accusations of) libel.
Correct! As a society, we value the importance of spreading news and information quickly.
Incorrect. Journalists and the media function as a way to get information out to the public, so they receive more protection against libel lawsuits.
10. To sue a journalist or the media, what extra element must someone prove?
The journalist or media knew the person could be hurt by the statement.
Incorrect. Knowing that damages might occur is not an element.
The journalist or media knew the information was false, or disregarded that it could have been false and published it anyway.
Correct! This is called “actual malice.” It occurs when the media had knowledge that the statement was false or when the media showed a reckless disregard for the truth by not investigating to verify the statement.
The journalist or media disliked the person who was the subject of the statement.
Incorrect. It does not matter whether the journalist likes or dislikes the person who is the subject of the statement.