“Oops, I did it again!” Apologies to Britney, but my sentence had a few additional expletives added to it as I realised that once more I had pressed the send button too quickly.
The fatal mistake that I made was sourcing an email address to put in the body of my message and the quickest way for me to do that was to type their name into the ‘cc’ box. Up came their email address, which I duly copied and pasted and then… yes, dear reader, you guessed it, I pressed ‘send’.
I broke the golden rule; think before you send.
Apparently you can defame someone via email if your communication lowers the reputation of the person you are writing about and the email is sent to somebody else other than the person who you are writing about, and that is exactly what I did.
I mentioned to the person for whom the email was destined that “I found him to be quite hard work and difficult to deal with”, referring to the unfortunate recipient of my cc. Maybe not the worst thing to say about someone, but I felt mortified. Amazingly, the injured party replied to me in a curt tone recommending that someone else be contacted instead of him in relation to the setting up of a meeting. I swiftly sent a grovelling and apologetic reply and thankfully got one back: “No problem. Apology accepted, it happens to all of us.” How magnanimous and it did go some way to making me feel better but that is not the point.
Emails can now almost always be recovered, so even if you delete them, they could be retrieved if necessary. Hopefully, that sort of thing only happens in more serious cases.
Now I know the difference between libel and slander. Libel is defaming someone through the written word; including in emails and on websites. Slander is spoken, such as on an audiotape, or a television or radio broadcast.
Defamation is all about reputation, and in particular about statements which damage others’ reputations. For something to be defamatory it needs to have an audience, so even if you send an email to a friend saying nasty things about someone, then this is potentially defamatory.
That’s not all. Sending potentially defamatory statements by email leaves evidence of not only what was written, but who sent it and even if you forward an email it can be defamatory. Be careful out there… you never know who is reading, or listening.