Defamation is a communication that causes harm. It may cause harm to a person, a business, a political party, a religion, a race, a group of people, a brand, a product or a category of goods. Defamation is deliberate and is usually an attempt to profit in some way by the damage it causes to the defamed party.
Smoking causes cancer. This is proven by science. Telling people that smoking causes cancer is not defamation. It is the truth. It causes harm to the tobacco category of goods, but it is not a lie. So this is not defamation.
To qualify as defamation it must actually be a lie.
Telling people that vaccinations cause autism is defamation. Dr. Andrew Wakefield falsified medical studies to cause harm to existing vaccinations. He did this because he was allegedly working on an alternative vaccination. He caused widespread confusion around the safety of MMR vaccines, leading to parents rejecting vaccines. As a result we are seeing explosions in infection rates from measles all across the western world.
Wakefield’s science has been disproved. His papers have been rejected. He was struck off the UK Medical register, but he continues to be cited as a reason to avoid MMR vaccination. Indeed the panic he started has also impacted on takeup of HPV vaccination rates.
Defamation can be very subtle. It works extremely well in mock denial. If I make a statement along the lines of “the prime minister has an STI” I am open to a charge of slander. My statement will be denied as rubbish and will largely be ignored.
But what if I make a statement like this “I categorically deny any accusation that the prime minister contracted an STI during a visit to a refugee centre in County Louth.”
I denied a rumour. What rumour? Does the prime minister have an STI? Where did he catch it? What was he doing in that refugee centre? If he didn’t catch the STI in the Louth refugee centre which one did he catch it in? By denying the rumor I make the defamation all the more believable and all the more damaging. Doing it this way unleashes the press horde into the private life of the prime minister.
You can do the same with brands, categories and products. “Unlike our major competitors we make our shampoo gluten free.” Is gluten bad for your hair? If the man in the white coat says it then it must be!
Now I don’t want to defame the fad for gluten free shampoo, so if your partner suffers from Coeliac disease and if they like to clean your head by regularly licking your hair, go for it.