If only it were that simple…
A statement is only false if it makes a factual claim that can be objectively proven or disproven:
Statements that are not verifiable cannot be defamatory:
A statement is not false if it is substantially true: minor factual errors are permissible so long as they don’t change the gist of the statement. This is highly subjective—here are some examples of statements that courts have found to be substantially true:
Hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration that is understood to be rhetorical rather than a factual statement. Hyperbole is generally not defamatory:
Even though hyperbole is technically not defamatory, we recommend avoiding it. Sticking to the facts is safer and more ethical.
Opinions are not defamatory because they are not statements of fact. A pure opinion expresses your personal belief about a subjective matter:
A statement that expresses a personal interpretation of true facts is very likely an opinion:
You cannot turn a factual statement into an opinion just by saying “It is my opinion that…”. These are statements of fact, not opinions:
An opinion must not imply untrue facts. Saying “it is my opinion Morgan has a bad safety record” implies you have heard compelling evidence to that effect. If that isn’t the case, the statement is likely defamatory.
See Use Pure Opinion for practical applications.
Pay attention! This is surprising to a lot of people and it’s easy to make a mistake here. Quoting a defamatory statement is usually defamatory, even if the quote is accurate:
Even if Blair really said that, the statement would be defamatory if Morgan hadn‘t injured three students. However…
Neutral report privilege allows the media to quote prominent sources when making an unbiased report about a public controversy, even if those sources are wrong. The law around neutral report privilege is complicated and not fully resolved: tread carefully here.
In the context of consent activism, it isn’t clear how the courts would define “media”, “prominent sources”, or “public controversy”.
Just to keep you on your toes, fair report privilege is completely different from neutral report privilege. It is a narrow but solidly established privilege that protects the media when they report on or republish official government statements or proceedings.
Fair report privilege may provide important protection for reporting someone’s criminal history, but is otherwise of limited relevance to consent activism. Fair report privilege is an absolute privilege in Washington.