Everyone wants to be famous, but most people don’t think about how intrusive the public becomes once someone achieves celebrity status. One of the most common issues that celebrities face is defamation, which occurs when people fabricate and publicize harmful rumors about others.
Different Kinds of Defamation
Defamation has two forms: libel and slander. When people experience libel, the act of defamation is written down. For example, a newspaper runs an article alleging that a celebrity murdered someone. When people experience slander, the act of defamation is spoken out loud. For example, a crowd surrounds a celebrity at a publicity event and someone shouts that he or she is trafficking stolen merchandise. Both forms of defamation are illegal.
Defamation is not a new problem, but it does pose unique challenges in the digital era. In an interview with Harvard, entertainment law expert John Branca notes that the different kinds of publicity are much harder to control today than they were in the past. Drawing on his career of representing rock and roll giants such as The Jackson 5 and ZZ Top, Branca cites the importance of having a dedicated team to control publicity problems. However, because there are so many media outlets, including newspapers, social media posts, and online blogs, controlling a story is almost impossible.
To avoid having libel or slander gain public notice and ruin their careers, celebrities need dedicated teams of lawyers and publicity agents who can manage many newsfeeds.
Some people who commit libel or slander claim that they are allowed to speak freely because of the First Amendment. However, the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech does not apply to speech that is untrue. Still, defamation cases are hard to win in court, especially if the defamation in question is unrecorded slander. Plaintiffs must provide proof of the following to win their cases:
- The involvement of an outside party
- The claim’s false nature
- The connection to the plaintiff
- The negative results
On the other hand, defendants do not have to compensate their plaintiffs for damages if they can demonstrate that their claims are not fabricated.
Sources of Proof
Proving defamation is challenging for unrecorded slander, but there are many sources of proof for libel. Historically, newspapers, flyers, and pamphlets have been some of the most popular ways to spread defamation. Today, many people use social media platforms to spread their rumors:
The easiest platforms to use are those that allow users to reach maximum publicity without a large number of followers, such as Twitter.
Libel is also common on other Internet platforms such as forums and blogs. Especially if these sites are open-access, it is simple for plaintiffs to cite them in court cases.
Because celebrities’ lives are so open, their chances of experiencing defamation are much higher than for the general public. However, if they follow John Branca’s advice and invest in good public relations teams, they can control libel or slander before it ruins their careers.