Difference between Libel and Slander

Libel and slander are two different forms of defamation, and it’s quite common to confuse one for the other. Knowing the difference between these two legal terms is more important than ever, particularly in this age of social media and the internet.


Defamation is issuing false statements as facts that hurt an individual’s reputation. Someone who commits this act is a called a “defamist”, “slanderer”, “libeler”, or a “famacide”. Defamation is also the general term used globally where defining the difference between libel and slander is not essential.

Laws governing libel started in England during the 17th century, where defamation lawsuits have grown quite common. However, there was no established criminal process known to have been in place at the time.

If you were to write an article that falsely accuses someone and gets published for the public, that’s libel. Libel also covers defamatory remarks made in other media such as audio, video, or radio. Now this may seem verbal in nature, but it is still libel as it is made in what is considered a transfixed form.

Libel vs Slander

Slander, on the other the hand, is oral defamation done in a fleeting form, made to anyone except the offended party. It can be in the form of a verbal activity, hand gestures, sound, and even sign language.

As you can see, the basic difference between libel and slander rests only in the way the defamatory remark was published. In instances where the line between libel and slander is blurred, or when differentiating the two is unimportant, defamation is the universally accepted term.

Libel vs Slander

What is the difference between libel and slander? Basically, it’s the manner with which a prima facie case must be established.
In libel, the first step determining a prima facie case is made with the plaintiff proving the statement made against him was false, has caused undue harm, and was done with inadequate research about the facts. However, for public personalities and celebrities, they also have to prove that the libelous statement was published for the purpose of causing harm with utter disregard for the truth, which is also called “proving malice”.
The second step is for the plaintiff to establish the fact that the defendant was responsible for publishing the defamatory statement. This rule applies to both libel and slander cases.

In slander cases, the plaintiff carries the burden of proof as he needs to prove the defamatory remark made against him was not true. The defendant on the other hand does not need to establish the truthfulness of the statement he made.

Comparison chart

Libel Slander
Often occurs in media, audio, video, or radio. Done in the form of a verbal activity, hand gesture, sound, sign language.
Plaintiff needs to disprove defamatory remark Defendant not needed to prove remarks are true

One of the most well-publicized libel cases to date is the “McLibel case”, where the McDonald’s Corporation filed a lawsuit against environmental activists David Morris and Helen Steel for publishing a pamphlet criticizing the company in 1977. It was a classic legal battle between a behemoth corporation that is McDonald’s and a group of activists that dragged on for two decades, to the embarrassment of the fast food chain giant. It was found in the two hearings that some of the contents in the leaflets were true, and others libelous.