This story of a man being sued for defamation over feedback he left on eBay has me thinking about something. Has the definition of slander and libel changed and I didn’t notice?
This is the story. Michael Steadman bought a clock on eBay. When the clock arrived, it was in 3 pieces which didn’t seem to go together. He sent it back, and had to get his money refunded by contacting PayPal, which I would assume means that contacting the seller yielded no results. So, he gave the seller negative feedback. Now, the seller is suing him for defamation because he ruined his perfect feedback track record.
Now here is where I ask questions. I was always told that it wasn’t slander/libel if you could back it up, or if you were just expressing an opinion of what you think of a person. For example, if I were to say “Joe steals from old people,” I had better have proof that Joe has had a history of stealing from seniors. But if I said “I don’t trust Joe. From my dealings with him, his ethics are less than stellar,” I am saying that from my experience, my opinion of him isn’t the greatest, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion. In this case, I would think either way, Steadman’s butt is covered.
Considering a big company refunded his money, I’m sure he would have had to have provided proof that the product was defective. Otherwise, I doubt they would have refunded the money. Also, since he went to PayPal for the refund, I would hope that he would have tried to deal with the dude who sold him the clock, so he would have had records of their exchanges, or record of the fact that the guy never offered to refund his money, even though the merchandise was returned. That, to me, would be proof of a bad experience with the seller, which would explain the negative feedback, hence, no way for a defamation suit to succeed.
Also, all he said was that he was a bad seller with the ethics of a used car salesman. That’s his opinion. He didn’t say that he killed people or stole from them or presented anything else he couldn’t prove. So, I would think there would be no defamation there either.
The poor dude has had to spend 7 grand trying to defend himself over this stupidity. I hope he wins. But the scary thing is this isn’t the first thing I’ve heard about defamation lawsuits filed over things said on the net that don’t sound like the old definition of slander or libel. It’s like once the internet is involved, all the old rules go out the window.
One case I heard about on the TV news that stood out involved a woman who tweeted that her realtor thought it was ok that she live in mould with no heat. Then she was sued. If it’s the truth and she can prove it, how can they have a case?
I agree that you can’t just shoot your mouth off on the net and say anything and everything just because it sounds impressive. But you should be able to speak the truth without fear. Not all truth is positive.