While you may be familiar with regular defamation, you may have heard the phrase "weaponized defamation" and wondered just what in the world that means.
Simply put, weaponized defamation isn't a real thing under the law, but rather a phrase that people use to describe intentional defamatory statements designed to take someone or something out. The example making recent headlines involves the former West Virginia republican candidate Don Blankenship, who is claiming that Donald Trump Jr. engaged in a campaign of “weaponized defamation” to get him knocked out of the primaries.
Wait … So What is Weaponized Defamation?
The way Blankenship's case against Trump Jr. explains it, alleging weaponized defamation amounts to a combination of a conspiracy claim and a defamation claim. The actual lawsuit starts like this:
"The mainstream media and much of the political establishment today routinely, and with actual malice, sets out to destroy public figures with outright lies."
In the world of defamation law, the phrase “actual malice” is significant, because for a public figure to prove a defamation claim, not only must they prove that the person making the defamatory statement did so without regard for the truth, they also must prove that the person made the statement with "actual malice," which is a loaded legal term that basically means with an intent to harm.
Supreme Tip Off
Interestingly, the lawsuit cites to a recent Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas that advocates for taking another look at the big Supreme Court case that has defined defamation law for the past 50-plus years. However, the subject of how fake news and weaponized defamation impact not just the legal system, but also American culture, have been hot issues recently, and have even attracted some of the nation's leading constitutional scholars to the discussion. Most notably, the problem that most scholars agree is central to the new era of defamation claims is that the internet has changed how communications and media work entirely.
And defamation law may be lagging behind.