Five Things You Should Know About Defamation in Florida

A Florida man was arrested last month in United Arab Emirates (UAE) for defaming his employer on Facebook.  30-year-old Ryan Pate of Bellair Bluffs is an American helicopter mechanic who called his bosses “backstabbers,” made derogatory comments, and warned others about working for the company using his Facebook account while on leave in the U.S.  Upon returning to UAE, he was arrested for breaking local defamation laws.  Pate was released after 11 days in jail and the company is seeking to dismiss charges.  This incident serves as a reminder, particularly when it comes to the accessibility of social media, that defamation charges can occur when you least expect them to.  You need to keep in mind that whether you are speaking to one person or to your entire network of Facebook friends, an audience is out there listening to what you say or post on the internet.

Defamation Defined

What exactly is defamation? Defamation is the act of making an intentionally false statement or claim against an individual, group or organization, particularly when damages are caused. There are two forms of defamation – slander and libel.  Slander is the verbal form of defamation whereas written or published defamation is called libel. Libel can include making statements via the internet on social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Let’s look at the 5 things you need to know about defamation in Florida:

  1. Defamation occurs when a person intentionally spreads information about another person, group of people, or entity that causes damage to their reputation or another form of negligence.
  2. Defamation is actionable through multiple channels. For example, a person can be defamed through speech, in print, or by statements made on the internet. Cases involving internet and social media defamation are treated the same as more traditional forms.
  3. The statement must be unprivileged in order to be considered defamation. For instance, a false statement made by a witness during trial may be considered to be privileged information and thus may not be susceptible to a defamation suit.
  4. In Florida, you have the burden of proving intent, proving your reputation or company was damaged, and proving the information shared is in fact false.
  5. There are several defenses to defamation, including substantial truth, opinion and fair comment privileges, fair report privilege as well as a provision in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) that protects freedom of expression on the internet.

If you are facing charges for defamation or if you feel that you have been defamed, whether it involves social media, print or verbal communication, one of the defenses in Florida highlighted above may be able to protect you.  Keep in mind, plaintiffs must prove each and every element of a defamation case. It is important to contact an attorney experienced in handling these matters. If you need legal help with respect to a defamation case, contact TJ Grimaldi at McIntyre Thanasides Bringgold Elliott Grimaldi & Guito, P.A.