Moral Injury definition:

Moral injury refers to an injury to an individual's moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional guilt and shame[1], and in some cases also a sense of betrayal, anger and profound 'moral disorientation'[2].

Defamation definition:

Defamation, in law, attacking another’s reputation by a false publication (communication to a third party) tending to bring the person into disrepute. The concept is an elusive one and is limited in its varieties only by human inventiveness.

I'm not an expert in law and in law you can't compare things at all, but i try to determine wether someone can be sued for moral injury or defamation, exactly I try to determine wether per definition do they differ a lot or not. If i understand they say "and in some cases also a sense of betrayal, anger and profound 'moral disorientation'[2].", but isn't this the case also in Defamation whereby a person is charged for something he didn't?

  • When can a person be charged for Defamation?
  • When can a person be charged for Moral Injury?
  • Moral injury does not appear to be any sort of legal concept, so why it would be compared to defamation is not at all clear, therefore I'm VTC until this is explained. – Nij Sep 27 '19 at 8:32
  • @Nij What about moral damage? – tungsten Sep 27 '19 at 8:33
  • What about it? You're asking the question, and not in a way that is clear, so please explain what you're trying to determine. – Nij Sep 27 '19 at 8:35
  • 1
    Jurisdiction and sources for your quotes should be added. – Mark Johnson Sep 27 '19 at 9:52
  • Is "Moral injury" a legal concept in some jurisdiction? Or is it a philosophical and/or ethical concept but not a legal one? If the latter it is off-topic here, and it is not surprising that it should be similar to the legal concept of defamation. Many legal concepts are related to (but not identical to) moral or ethical concepts. – David Siegel Sep 27 '19 at 14:22

So Defimation and Moral Injury are similar crimes, in that they are crimes where the victim is injured due to the statements of another person. The difference between the two is whether the statement is true.

Defamatory statements are fictional statements that cause damage, though there is a special class of Defamatory Statements called Per se Defamation. Per Se Defamation is a false statement that serves no purpose other than to injure the person, and thus the victim does not need to prove that any injury occured (i.e. the statement is false, and the falsehood serves no reasonable purpose other than causing the victim injury). For example, if Alice says "Bob stole the cookies from the cookie jar" when it is factually true that Bob did not steal the cookies, Bob sue for defamation and need not prove that any damages was infact caused because there is no possible reason for Alice to accuse Bob of a crime that can be read to not intend to do damage by way of prosecution of a man for a crime he did not commit (ignore the fact that my "crime" in this example is also a popular child's game. I'm use it as an example crime so I don't give prejudicial judgment on crimes that can cause a lot more heated discussion or tie to a real world event.).

Moral Injury is like per se defamation in that the statement serves no reasonable purpose other than to cause damage to the person. The difference is that in this case, the statement is true (though never the less, is discussed in a way that is only meant to cause undue injury to the victim). In the example for this, I'm going to push the cookie jar accusation aside as typically criminal accusations of actual crimes are not subject to Moral Injury (there is a stronger case if you were convicted and served your debt to society, but it's not as airtight). At time of writing, there is a news story from earlier this week that has some of the hallmarks of the issue, and while I'm not going to cite it directly, and don't have all the details (namely the charity in question) I am basing my example off of this, but changing the names and a few details to make this case. Based on a true story but modified to fit a specific example:

Alice is a newspaper reporter who is covering the story of Bob, a local man who's sign "Buy me a Cola" displayed at a recent sportsball game went viral and resulted in random people on the internet sending Bob money as an internet joke. Bob found himself with a fortune in real money for his little joke and decides it's wrong of him to accept it as he was just carrying the sign for a joke and didn't intend it to actually make any profit off of it. So Bob announced he intends to give all the money given to him for his joke to the local homeless shelter. The Cola brand soda company hears about this and since they got attached to the story, decide to contribute a matching donation to the same homeless shelter in Bob's name. It's an open and shut feel good fluff piece.

While writing it up, Alice does some research into Bob's history and discovers that, nearly a decade ago, Bob (at the time was 16) tweeted a joking statement that is today morally offensive ("I like Justin Bieber"). Alice includes this information in the story, the editor reads the story, approves of it, and sends it to print and Cola Brand Soda Company sees story and pulls their promised contribution because they do not want to be associated with a Belieber.

Bob would not have a case for defimation, as the tweet is clearly there and even if he were to delete it, sites like the waybackmachine can verify it. He did tweet this joke.

However, being a Belieber, while frowned upon society, is not a criminal offense (assumes U.S. speech laws) and it was something Bob did as a joke when he was 16 and it was nearly 10 years old when it was printed in the news story. Bob is also not a public figure and his only newsworthy action had no musical component to the story. Bob was a person who suddenly found himself with a lot of money that he earnestly believed he did not deserve and decided to use it to help other peoples lives and Alice never discussed anything about music preferences when she interviewed Bob.

The inclusion of this joke in Alice's probably has no plausible reason to be in the story other then to damage Bob's character in a story about him doing a good deed. He was never given a chance to respond to it in the story, nor was the interview in anyway reflective of the story discussing an angle of framing that Bob is a repentant belieber who is giving back to people. And given the age at the time of the tweet, and the number of years since it was tweeted, it shows little relevance to Bob's character and motivation in his donation (in fact, that the earliest known joke is still nearly 10 years old, it could suggest that if Bob was a Belieber, he had long since abandon the fandom... lots of people change their opinions on music over the course of time).

And because Cola Brand Soda withdrew it's own contribution in Bob's name because of the damage to his reputation would be evidence of injury. The statement that "As a teenager, Bob said he was a Belieber" is true, but why it is necessary to know in a story about "Bob (age 26) gave money he received from an internet joke to charity" has no possible explanation other than the writer trying to ruin Bob's reputation as a person who care greatly about the lives of homeless people may still be an actionable as a Moral Injury.

*Nota Bene: The example of Moral Injury was originally written with a more serious issue that was at the heart of the story I used as inspiration. In that case, it was a tweet with a racist joke (that was copied from a TV show). I swapped it to Justin Beiber Fan to distance my example from a political hot button issue but preserve the crux of the possible wrong (the bad thing done in the past is not related in to the present action in any way. If anything donating to a homeless shelter shows the reverse is true as homelessness disproportionately affects minority members of society.). I am in no way equating Justin Beiber's work to being as socially reprehensible as racism, but merely subbing in something that has a vocal dislike that was just as loud as supporters. The point is no matter where you stand on the controversial issue Bieber's music and fandom, the way it was discussed was irrelevant to the topic of the hypothetical story and was done in a manner that was meant to harm the reputation by any reasonable read. As I expressed, in the real story, I feel is similar, but I do think that a case can be mounted that the reporter thought it was important and did not adequately explain the reason in the article. Just as having a racist ideology is, frowned upon in polite society, but not a crime, so too is terrible writing.

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