Libel is a false and unprivileged statement about another person that is written. It must (1) expose that person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or disgrace; (2) cause that person to be shunned or avoided; or (3) injure that person in his or her occupation. The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant is at fault.

What constitutes a “false statement”?

Only statements of fact—rather than opinion—may be defamatory. The plaintiff must be able to prove, then, that the defendant’s statement (1) was a factual statement, and (2) false.

What constitutes a “published writing”?

It is not enough to simply write a defamatory statement; the author must actually take steps to show it to other people. For example, publication is not just limited to printing something in a newspaper or posting something on a blog. It can simply be writing it on a piece of paper and showing it to other people. The idea is that the defendant must show the writing to others in order to actually damage the plaintiff.

What degree of fault does the plaintiff need to prove?

If the plaintiff is a public figure, then he or she must prove that the defendant acted maliciously. Otherwise, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant was negligent.