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A private figure claiming defamation—your neighbor, your roommate, the guy who walks his dog by your favorite coffee shop—only has to prove you acted negligently, which is to say that a "reasonable person" would not have published the defamatory statement.

A public figure must show "actual malice"—that you published with either knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth.

Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim.

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Here defendant did not use "dumb" in isolation, but as part of the idiomatic phrase, "dumb ass." When applied to a whole human being, the term "ass" is a general expression of contempt essentially devoid of factual content.

Adding the word "dumb" merely converts "contemptible person" to "contemptible fool." Plaintiffs were justifiably insulted by this epithet, but they failed entirely to show how it could be found to convey a provable factual proposition. If the meaning conveyed cannot by its nature be proved false, it cannot support a libel claim.

In addition to the obvious public figures—a government employee, a senator, a presidential candidate—someone may be a limited-purpose public figure.

A limited-purpose public figure is one who (a) voluntarily participates in a discussion about a public controversy, and (b) has access to the media to get his or her own view across.

This is a difficult standard for a plaintiff to meet.

A public figure is someone who has actively sought, in a given matter of public interest, to influence the resolution of the matter.

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(A verifiable fact is one capable of being proven true or false.) This is determined in light of the context of the statement.

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