Comments more like slander than libel

Shane Richmond at the Telegraph has news of an interesting ruling from a British High Court judge, in a case that involved allegedly defamatory comments posted to an online discussion group about investing. In his decision, Mr. Justice Eady said that even though some of the comments on the investment forum amounted to “vulgar abuse,” they were much more like slander — in other words, much more like nasty remarks that are made to someone in person — than they were like libel (which usually involves writing or publication). As he put it:

“[Such comments] are rather like contributions to a casual conversation (the analogy sometimes being drawn with people chatting in a bar) which people simply note before moving on; they are often uninhibited, casual and ill thought out. Those who participate know this and expect a certain amount of repartee or ‘give and take’.”

The judge went on to say that comments in such forums are not the same as comments that appear in newspaper articles, since they are more ephemeral and more like conversation, and therefore shouldn’t be the subject of a defamation action.

“Communications of this kind are much more akin to slanders (this cause of action being nowadays relatively rare) than to the usual, more permanent kind of communications found in libel actions,” said the ruling. “People do not often take a ‘thread’ and go through it as a whole like a newspaper article. They tend to read the remarks, make their own contributions if they feel inclined, and think no more about it.”

There’s some more info about the case here, and here.

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