Q: Is it true that it's harder for public figures to sue for defamation?
Yes it is a little harder because public figures have more factors to prove. The courts tend to distinguish between two types of Plaintiffs in defamation actions: “private individuals” and “public figures.” The difference in the way they are treated depends on the Defendant's knowledge in publishing the defamatory content. Private individuals need only establish that the publisher acted with "negligence." However, where public figures are concerned, the courts have found that there is a lessened interest in protecting the defamed subject's reputation. Therefore, public-figure plaintiffs must allege a higher level of knowledge.
The United States Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) established that a public figure plaintiff must establish what is known as “actual malice.” To show actual malice, the person who published the statement either had to have known that the statement was false, or published it with reckless disregard despite awareness of the probable falsity. The existence of actual malice must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.
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