What is Online Defamation?
How to Prove, Remove, Stop It & Sue

Defamation Law and the Internet

In the digital age, the anonymity afforded by the internet can sometimes be a double-edged sword. While it allows for freedom of expression, it also opens doors to various forms of online harassment and defamation. A case that strikingly illustrates this is a recent series of investigations into a European Internet Smear Campaign Extortion Racket. Wealthy entrepreneurs were targeted with threats of online character assassination unless they submitted to extortion demands. This, alongside countless other individuals, families, businesses, and other organisations facing online defamation every day, underscores the severe impact of these cybercrimes, not just on individuals but also on businesses.

These issues are more prevalent than one might think. In 2023, reports of hate and harassment have surged, with 33% of adults and 51% of teens experiencing harassment in the last year alone, with the vast majority of victims being individuals targeted via social media. These statistics paint a concerning picture of the digital landscape, making it imperative to understand online defamation law, be proactive in protecting yourself or your business from it, and seeking legal support in preparing for a defamation claim.


Internet Slander and Libel

Defamation, commonly referred to as either slander or libel, occurs when someone’s reputation is harmed by false statements. When these defamatory statements are made online, they are often referred to as written defamation or ‘libel,’ particularly when published in a fixed medium like a website or social media. However, spoken defamation, known as ‘slander,’ can also occur in digital formats, such as through podcasts or video content. Victims of online defamation can include any company or individual whose reputation is tarnished by such statements. What is considered defamation in the online realm extends to all forms of harmful assertions made in digital content, encompassing various types of online content and statements online. This broader scope underscores the importance for individuals and businesses to be vigilant in monitoring and addressing defamatory content on the internet.

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What Constitutes Defamation?

Cyber defamation, online libel, whatever you may call it, involves publishing false statements that harm an individual’s or entity’s reputation. If you are suffering reputational harm as a result of potentially libellous statements, there are a criteria that need to be met to claim you’re being defamed online. For a statement to be considered defamatory, it typically needs to meet certain criteria:

  • Falsehood: The statement must be a false statement of fact. True statements, no matter how damaging, generally do not constitute defamation.
  • Harmful: The statement must harm the reputation of the person or entity being discussed. This harm can be to their personal, professional, or social standing.
  • Published: There needs to be a publication of the statement to a third party. In the context of the internet, this means the statement is made available to someone other than the person it’s about.

With these, you are well on your way to building the support your defamation accusation needs and seeking justice for reputation ruining statements.

It’s important to understand that internet defamation is not confined to explicitly derogatory statements. It can be subtle, implied, or even masked as a joke or a sarcastic remark. The criterion is the falsity of the statement and the harm it causes, not the tone or style in which it is delivered.


Public Figures and Demonstrating Actual Malice in Defamation Claims

Public figures face additional challenges when pursuing online defamation claims, as they must demonstrate ‘actual malice’ – that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth. Actual malice can be proven by showing that the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the truth or that the defamer knew the statement was false. This is particularly significant in instances of online defamation against influencers, celebrities, and other public figures that results in financial damages the victim hopes to recoup. It’s crucial to understand that truth is a defense in defamation cases; if the statement can be proven true, it typically negates the claim of defamation. However, this legal principle must be carefully balanced against the right to freedom of speech, ensuring that legitimate expressions of opinion and fact are not unduly suppressed while still protecting individuals from harmful and false statements made online.

Defamation of Your Online Reputation Can Happen Anywhere

This section explores the various places where online defamation happens every day, highlighting the importance of vigilance and proactive reputation management.

Defamation on Social Media Platforms like Instagram

Social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter are common venues for the spread of defamatory content. Due to their wide reach and rapid sharing capabilities, a defamatory statement can quickly cause significant damage. The ease with which users can post content, coupled with the viral nature of these platforms, means that a single defamatory post can reach thousands, if not millions, of users in a short time. This not only exacerbates the harm caused but also complicates the process of controlling and rectifying the situation.

Defamation in Online Articles and Blog Posts

Written content on websites or blogs that contain false statements about a person or a company can be defamatory. The perceived authority and permanence of published articles and blogs lend weight to their content, making them potent tools for causing reputational damage. Whether it’s an online news article, a blog post, or a comment section, these platforms can host content that unfairly maligns an individual’s or a company’s reputation, with potentially wide-reaching and lasting effects.

Defamation in Online Reviews

Sites like Google Reviews and Yelp, where people often post experiences and opinions about businesses, can also be grounds for defamation. False and damaging reviews can severely impact a business’s reputation and revenue. Unlike casual social media posts, reviews on these platforms are often perceived as trustworthy and credible by consumers. Afterall, 94% of consumers report avoiding a business because of online reviews. As a result, a defamatory review misleads potential customers, causing long-term harm to a business’s public image and financial health.

Other Places Defamatory Statements are Made

Defamation can also occur in less conspicuous online spaces, such as forums, chat rooms, and even in the comment sections of various websites. These platforms, often overlooked, can harbor harmful statements that spread quietly yet effectively. Additionally, emails and private messages, when leaked or shared beyond their intended audience, can also contribute to online defamation. This highlights the need for constant vigilance across all digital platforms, as defamation can arise in both public and private online spheres.

Understanding the Scope of Your Online Reputation

Your online reputation is a multifaceted digital footprint, encompassing every mention, comment, review, and post associated with your name or business on the internet. It’s not just confined to social media or review sites but extends to any online platform where your personal or business identity is discussed. This comprehensive scope means that managing your online reputation requires monitoring a wide array of digital channels, understanding the impact of each platform, and having strategies in place to address any defamatory content that may arise. It’s a continuous process that plays a crucial role in maintaining a positive public perception in the digital age.


Compensation and Damages in Defamation Cases

One of the key aspects of seeking legal redress in cases of online defamation and harassment is understanding the types of compensation available. Victims can claim various forms of compensatory damages, depending on the nature and impact of the harassment.

Punitive Damages

These are awarded to punish the perpetrator, especially in cases where their actions were particularly malicious. For example, in the sextortion case on Snapchat handled by Rexxfield, punitive damages could have been considered due to the perpetrator’s malicious intent to harm a teenager.

Special Damages (Economic Damages)

These cover quantifiable losses, such as lost income or therapy costs incurred due to the harassment. The European Internet Smear Campaign case, where entrepreneurs faced extortion threats, had a strong case for special damages due to business losses and the costs incurred in countering the smear campaigns.

General Damages

These are awarded for non-economic losses, such as emotional distress, pain, and suffering. General damages would have been highly relevant in the case of the wrongly accused North Carolina man, who lost his freedom, custody of his child, and suffered reputational damage due to false electronic death threats made in their name.

Case Studies: Compensation in Different Jurisdictions

Compensation in online defamation and harassment cases can vary significantly based on jurisdiction. Two contrasting case studies from Rexxfield’s portfolio highlight this:


Case Study 1: In the case of the wrongly accused individual in North Carolina, the compensation would have been influenced by U.S. laws governing defamation and electronic harassment.


Case Study 2: In contrast, the European Internet Smear Campaign Extortion Racket would have involved considerations of different European laws, particularly regarding privacy and extortion. This case highlights the complexities when dealing with international jurisdictions.


These examples underscore the importance of understanding the legal landscape in different countries and the role of specialized legal experts in navigating these complexities.


Defamation Lawsuits and Suing for Libel and Slander

When it comes to taking legal action against online harassment or defamation, you should stop to ensure you understand the finer points of filing a lawsuit and the challenges involved.


Platforms and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

A key legal consideration in online defamation cases involves understanding the role of platforms like Facebook, Reddit, etc., and the implications of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This Act essentially shields online platforms, referred to as an Internet Service Provider (ISP), from liability for the content posted by their users. Section 230c in particular has long been critisized and a point of disagreement and pain for many victims. Seemingly allowing the websites that host the defamatory content to excuse themselves from the issue, with no obligation to remove the false information.  However, the landscape is evolving, and there have been recent debates and potential amendments to this law which could impact future cases of online defamation. Rexxfield’s expertise in navigating these legal waters can be particularly valuable, especially given how the Act influences the strategies for legal recourse. 


Establishing Liability

Determining who is at fault in cases of online harassment can be complex. The challenge often lies in establishing a clear link between the online actions and the perpetrator. For instance, in the case of the ProtonMail Anonymous Blackmailer, Rexxfield successfully unmasked the identity behind the unidentified threats, which is a crucial step in establishing liability. This process can be intricate and requires a deep understanding of both digital forensics and legal nuances.


Evidence Requirements

In any legal case, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. This means gathering substantial evidence is key. Digital evidence, such as IP logs, email trails, and digital footprints, plays a significant role. You can learn more about evidence requirements and the process of gathering it lower in this article.


Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations refers to the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. In civil lawsuits for defamation cases, the cause of action typically starts from the date the defamatory statement was made public. It’s imperative for plaintiffs to be aware of these time constraints, as the lawsuit must be filed within the stipulated lawsuit time limit. Failing to file within this period can result in losing the legal right to seek redress, regardless of the merits of the case. Therefore, it is essential for anyone considering legal action for defamation to promptly assess their situation and begin legal proceedings within the designated timeframe.


How Do You Prove Online Defamation?

In legal battles against online defamation and harassment, one of the most critical steps is proving the allegations. This involves not only identifying the perpetrator but also establishing the nature and impact of their actions.

The legislation and legal requirements for proving online defamation or harassment can significantly differ based on jurisdiction, whether that be by country, state, county, region, or province. For instance, some jurisdictions may require proof of intent to harm, while others may focus on the impact of the statements or actions on the victim.

Some of the most common requirements are as follows: 

0. Identification of an Anonymous Attacker

Identifying an anonymous harasser online is often the first hurdle. The complexities involved in unmasking anonymous antagonists are illustrated in Rexxfield’s case where they traced a phone number linked to an anonymous burner phone, crucially tying it to the suspect. Such investigations require sophisticated digital forensic techniques, such as the tracing of IP addresses, analyzing digital communication trails, and sometimes, social engineering tactics, as seen in the ProtonMail Blackmailer case.

Difficulties in Identification

The process of identifying an anonymous individual online can be fraught with challenges, especially when perpetrators use advanced technologies like VPNs, proxy servers, or anonymizing services to hide their tracks.

1. Publication of the Statement

To prove defamation, it must be established that the defamatory statement was published. Meaning the statement was made available to anyone other than the defamed party and posted to a public platform such as social media, a blog, or review website.

2. Identification of the Plaintiff

The defamatory content must clearly refer to the plaintiff, whether explicitly named or implied. It should be evident to an average person that the statement is about the plaintiff, even if they are not directly mentioned.

3. Falsity of the Statement

Central to a defamation claim is proving the statement’s falsity. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defamatory statements made against them are not true. Establishing this fact is essential, as truth serves as a strong defense in defamation cases.

4. Proving Harm and Quantifying Damages

The plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the defamatory statement has caused harm, such as damage to reputation, emotional distress, or financial loss. In some jurisdictions, financial harm must be quantifiable, especially when seeking monetary compensation.

What to do Before Engaging an Internet Defamation Attorney

When confronted with online harassment or defamation, the immediate question that often arizes is: Should I consult a lawyer? While legal advice is important, the initial step may not necessarily involve immediately engaging an attorney. This is where Rexxfield’s specialized expertise in digital forensics and online harassment becomes invaluable. With a proven track record in resolving complex cybercrime cases, our team excels at navigating the intricate networks of evidence left by of these cybercrimes. With the ability to unmask perpetrators using advanced techniques, even when the individuals use techniques like proxy servers to conceal their identities, speaking to our team is the logical first step.


Why Starting with Rexxfield Is More Effective Than a Defamation Lawyer

Opting for Rexxfield’s services can simplify and expedite the process for those facing online defamation. By offering an online defamation subpoena preparation service and a suite of specialized cyber forensics services, Rexxfield not only streamlines the initial steps of addressing online harassment but also presents a more cost-effective approach compared to traditional legal routes. For example, Rexxfield successfully aided a client who endured anonymous harassment for over a year. Their expertise in tracing phone numbers and gathering critical evidence linked a burner phone to the suspect, bypassing the complexities and substantial expenses typically associated with such cases. This approach underscores the benefits of starting with Rexxfield’s specialized services, ensuring efficient and effective resolution before escalating to legal proceedings.


Beginning the Process: The Journey of Legal Discovery

The legal discovery process in cases of online defamation and harassment is a critical phase where evidence is gathered and analyzed. This stage can be intricate, especially when it involves digital data.

Digital Data Collection and Preservation

The collection and preservation of digital data are fundamental in building a strong case. This involves meticulously gathering digital footprints left by the perpetrator, which can include emails, social media posts, IP logs, and more. In the case of the European Internet Smear Campaign Extortion Racket, for instance, collecting digital evidence of the threats and the extortion attempts was crucial for legal proceedings.

Role of Digital Forensics

Digital forensics plays a pivotal role in the legal discovery process. Experts in this field use specialized tools and techniques to uncover, analyze, and preserve digital evidence. For instance, in Rexxfield’s investigation into the ProtonMail Blackmailer, their ability to capture the blackmailer’s location and digital artifacts through social engineering and proprietary software was key in unmasking the perpetrator’s identity.

Collaborative Efforts in Investigations

Collaboration between legal teams, digital forensic experts, and sometimes law enforcement agencies is often necessary. This multi-disciplinary approach ensures a comprehensive investigation. For example, Rexxfield’s collaboration with the FBI in uncovering a large romance scam network illustrates the effectiveness of such joint efforts.

Overcoming Challenges in the Discovery Process

The discovery process can face numerous challenges, especially when dealing with sophisticated cybercriminals who use advanced technologies to cover their tracks. Overcoming these challenges requires not only technical expertise but also a deep understanding of the legal aspects of digital evidence.


Jurisdictional Issues: Navigating Legal Boundaries

Online defamation and harassment cases often transcend geographical boundaries, making jurisdictional issues a complex and critical aspect of legal proceedings.

Cross-Border Challenges

The internet’s global nature means that perpetrators and victims can be located in different countries, each with its own legal system and regulations. This poses significant challenges in terms of jurisdiction: determining which country’s laws apply and where legal action can be taken. For example, in Rexxfield’s case involving the European Internet Smear Campaign Extortion Racket, understanding the nuances of European law was crucial, as the victims and perpetrators spanned multiple countries.

International Law Enforcement Collaboration

In cases involving international jurisdictions, collaboration between law enforcement agencies across borders is often necessary. Rexxfield’s experience in working alongside agencies like the FBI, as seen in their investigation of a large romance scam network, demonstrates the effectiveness of such collaborations in tackling global cybercrimes.

Legal Expertise Across Jurisdictions

Handling jurisdictional issues requires lawyers and investigators who are knowledgeable about the legal landscapes in different countries. This expertise is vital in navigating the complexities of international laws and treaties that govern cybercrimes.


Tangible and Psychological Impacts of Online Defamation

The effects of online harassment and defamation extend far beyond the legal realm, deeply impacting both the tangible aspects of victims’ lives and their psychological well-being. 

Tangible Impacts: Financial and Social Consequences

The physical, or tangible, impacts of online harassment can be profound. Victims may suffer financial losses due to damage to their business or personal reputation, as was the case in the European Internet Smear Campaign Extortion Racket, where entrepreneurs faced significant financial and reputational harm. Other tangible impacts include costs related to legal proceedings, security measures, and potential job loss or diminished career opportunities as a result of the damage done to their online reputation.

Psychological Impacts: Emotional Toll and Mental Health

Beyond the tangible, the psychological toll of being a target of online harassment or defamation can be severe. Victims often experience stress, anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The sextortion case involving a teenager on Snapchat is an apt example, where the emotional distress experienced by the victim would have been significant, highlighting the importance of considering these psychological impacts in legal remedies.

Conclusion: Seeking Justice in the Digital Realm

The journey through the complexities of online defamation and harassment highlights the need for expert legal intervention and comprehensive solutions. As we have seen through various case studies from Rexxfield, such as the European Internet Smear Campaign Extortion Racket and the sextortion case on Snapchat, these issues can have far-reaching consequences affecting both the tangible and psychological aspects of individuals’ lives.

The Power of Prevention, Education, and Support

While legal recourse is vital, prevention, education, and support (both technical and psychological) play a key role in combating online harassment and defamation. Awareness about online safety, understanding one’s digital rights, and knowing the early signs of cyber exploitation can significantly help in mitigating these issues.

The Power of Specialized Legal Support and Expert Witnesses

The role of specialized legal professionals in digital forensics and cyber law can not be overstated in best preparing yourself for an online defamation case. These professionals, like those on our team here at Rexxfield, offer invaluable guidance through the intricacies of the legal process, leveraging their deep understanding of the digital landscape, which is crucial in today’s interconnected world. Additionally, expert witnesses play a critical role, offering testimony and evidence on technical aspects, such as the origin and impact of defamatory content. We provide courts with the necessary technical insights to understand the nuances of digital communication and the nature of online defamation. Our contributions are often decisive in establishing the veracity of claims and the extent of damages, thereby significantly influencing the outcome of legal battles against online defamation.

If you’d like to explore how Rexxfield can help you get your life back and move past online defamation targetting you, your family, and/or your business, we invite you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling us one of the numbers listed below, or by completing our contact us form here.


You can reach our friendly, helpful team at any of the following numbers:

USA: +1-307-218-3558
AU: +61 7-3497-3056
UK/Europe: +44-330-818-8665