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Warning for defamation defendants

By Steven | November 11, 2009

The job of the defendant in a defamation jury trial (often the media) is to convince the jury that ordinary reasonable people will not think less of the plaintiff after being exposed to the material alleged to be defamatory.

You might think it will probably be enough to convince the jurors themselves, who no doubt regard themselves as ordinary reasonable people, that the material wasn’t defamatory.

And you’d be wrong.

Problem is, jurors tend to think that other people will be more affected and influenced by the material than them. This is known as the third-person effect. It applies in advertising, too. “Oh, I’m not influenced by those ads,” we tend to think, “but others might well be”. Turns out, this effect is amplified when the source of the defamatory statement has an axe to grind against the plaintiff.

This makes it tougher for the media to make the case that a particular article doesn’t have a defamatory meaning, or wasn’t very harmful.

Research into the third-person effect has been written up in the Public Opinion Quarterly (abstract here) and more recently, in the Media and Arts Law Review in Australia (abstract here)

Topics: Defamation | No Comments »


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