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What to Do If Your Publication Is Accused of Defamation or Libel

Learn how to handle accusations of defamation or libel against your publication. Avoid legal issues and protect your reputation with our essential tips.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. Since laws can vary due to circumstances and region anyway, it’s best to consult an attorney about what to do in your unique situation.

Is your publication facing accusations of defamation or libel? If so, then your first instinct may be to just ignore it and hope it goes away. This is definitely the easiest thing to do in this situation, sure, but it would also be a mistake. Not only can these allegations damage your reputation if your accuser chooses to make them public, but you may also soon find yourself on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit. 

And unless you like the idea of being embroiled in an expensive and time-consuming legal case, this is likely something that you’ll want to avoid.

So, instead of ignoring defamation accusations, the best thing you can do is try to mitigate the problem and prepare yourself for the potential consequences. In this article, we’re going to discuss what to do if your publication is accused of defamation or libel.

Why Is My Publication Being Accused of Defamation or Libel?

If someone is accusing your publication of defamation, it means that they believe you’ve published false allegations against someone else that are damaging to their reputation. Defamation typically falls into one of two categories: slander (verbal defamation) or libel (written defamation).

According to the Legal Information Institute, a statement needs to have four elements to be considered defamatory:

  1. False: presents false information as factual
  2. Published: or otherwise communicated to a third party
  3. Fault: the defamatory statement was published with malice, or at least negligently
  4. Harm: damaged someone’s reputation

So, if someone believes that they have found a statement in your publication that contains these elements, then this is likely why you’re being accused of defamation.

Immediate Steps to Take If Your Publication Is Accused of Defamation or Libel

Whether you believe they have merit or not, it’s important to respond to any accusations of defamation or libel against your publication as soon as possible. According to Hepworth Legal, these are the first few steps you should take to prepare your defense:

1. Do Not Make a Public Statement Regarding the Accusations

Now, it may be tempting to make a statement regarding the defamation allegations against your publication, especially if the accusing party has already made them public. But even if you know that they are false, it’s best to resist the urge.

You may think that you have the perfect wording and everything to effectively address the situation and mitigate its effects, but it’s often not worth taking the chance. Anything that you say can be used against you in a court of law, and your accuser and their legal team will be looking for any kind of advantage to help them win the case.

2. Collect Evidence

If you believe the libel allegations against your publication are false, then your next step is to start collecting evidence. You may not be facing a lawsuit yet, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

You should look for any and all relevant documentation or communication to support your side of the story, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. While you may not think that certain documents are particularly relevant, a lawyer may see them differently.

3. Contact a Defamation Lawyer

Finally, you don’t need to wait until you’ve officially been sued for defamation to seek legal advice. In fact, it’s in your best interest to do so sooner rather than later.

As with many other areas of the law, the rules and regulations surrounding defamation accusations are complex. So, seeking counsel from a lawyer early on in the process can help you navigate the situation that much more effectively.

What If I Make a Retraction? Will the Defamation Accusations Against My Publication Go Away?

It may seem like retracting the supposedly defamatory statement from your publication would solve the problem, so you may be wondering why it’s missing from the steps above. Well, while it may be true that a retraction could prevent a libel accusation from turning into a lawsuit, it doesn’t completely eliminate your publication from liability.

See, when you issue a retraction, you’re admitting that you did, in fact, publish a defamatory statement - whether you believe that you did or not. So, before you retract anything, it’s essential to carefully review the allegations and consult with a lawyer. 

If it looks like that you did make a false accusation, then your lawyer may advise you to go ahead with the retraction. But they may also let you know that a lawsuit is still possible.

In some states, the accusing party can only file a lawsuit after asking a publication to retract their supposedly defamatory statement. And even if the publication complies, they’re not off the hook completely.

Let’s say you’re in California, for example. Here, the plaintiff would still be able to file a defamation lawsuit after your publication issues a retraction. While the retraction would protect you from more punitive damages, the accusing party would still be eligible for special damages, like lost wages.

Again, defamation law is often more complicated than you’d think. That’s why seeking expert legal advice is critical in this situation.

What If the Defamatory Statement Was AI-Generated? Can My Publication Still Get Sued?

Since the use of artificial intelligence has become so widespread so fast, especially when it comes to content creation, the laws surrounding its use are still murky at best. That’s not stopping people from filing defamation claims against AI companies, though.

For example, a radio host is suing OpenAI for false allegations made by its popular chatbot, ChatGPT. But it could be argued that it’s a little different when you choose to include an AI-generated defamatory statement in your publication.

Unlike chatbots, web publishers can fulfill the requirement of “fault” for defamatory statements. You are capable of reviewing AI outputs for false accusations, and publishing it with negligent or malicious intent. Chatbots aren’t quite there - at least, not yet.

What Can I Do to Prevent AI-Generated Defamatory Statements?

If you or your writers have been creating any AI-generated content, then you should be looking at it carefully before including it in your publication. An AI content detector can be useful here, as it can help you quickly and easily identify the AI-created text in a piece of content. 

You can then review the highlighted sections for anything that may be seen as defamatory, and do some fact checking. If you look through reputable sources and find out that it's true, great - you likely won’t need to worry about any accusations. But if it turns out to be false, you can simply remove it from the content before publication.

Final Thoughts

Accusations of defamation and libel can be stressful for web publishers. But as long as you hold off on making public statements about the allegations, collect the relevant evidence, and, above all, contact a lawyer, you should be able to navigate the situation effectively.

And since the laws surrounding defamation and AI are still unclear, you should take steps to ensure that you’re not including any AI-generated defamatory statements in your content. After all, it’s a lot easier (not to mention, less expensive) to run content through an AI checker now and edit accordingly than to deal with a lawsuit.

Jess Sawyer

Jess Sawyer is a seasoned writer and content marketing expert with a passion for crafting engaging and SEO-optimized content. With several years of experience in the digital marketing, Jess has honed her skills in creating content that not only captivates audiences but also ranks high on search engine results.

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