I've heard that if something is publicly known that it is not considered loshon hora? Is it true that it wouldn't be loshon hora if Reuven tells Shimon that Levi is very fat, even though Shimon already knows that?
But if it's negative I would suspect it would still be a problem of rechilus– DudeApr 21 at 18:54
The Chafetz Chaim writes about the heter for lashon hara of something that is already public in Chapter 2. He writes that "yesh omrim" that if you heard something said in public (i.e., before three people), then it is not lashon hara for you to repeat it because we assume that the rumor will spread anyway. He doesn't talk specifically about talking to the person who already knows (I hope if he addresses it someone else someone will add). However there are several limitations.
- You can't have intention to spread it; it just isn't lashon hara if you happen to mention it to someone else in conversation. 2:3.
- The heter only applies to those who heard it directly in public. But if you heard it second hand, the mere fact that it's public doesn't allow you to spread it further, especially since you don't know it's true. 2:4.
- The heter doesn't apply if the original listeners were yirei shamaim, because we can't assume they will spread the rumon. 2:5. Similarly, it doesn't apply if the original speaker told people not to repeat it. 2:7.
- The heter only applies within the same city; you can't spread it to a new city. 2:6.
- You can only say "I heard X," you cannot add to it or endorse it. 2:9.
- While it may not be asur to say it, you should still worry that the person you tell will be over in isurim, for example if you think he will believe it and spread it more or amplify it. 2:10.
I think what comes out of this is not that we say once something is public all bets are off. Rather, we say that if you know firsthand that something was said in public, maybe you don't need to be quite so careful about spreading it further by accident. So applying this to your example, the fact that the listener already knows also shouldn't create a blanket heter for Reuven and Shimon to sit around trashing Levi, especially if it might cause them to add to it.
Lastly, I would add two points from my own svara l'fi aniyut daati. First, the Chafetz Chaim writes in 2:1 that the more people hear it the bigger than sin. So even if you might be off the hook for spreading the story more, I would worry that you are compounding the isur of the original speaker, and why would you want to do that? Second, all of this refers to the specific isur of lashon hara. But there could be other isurim involved. For example if you do in fact contribute to spreading the story or you're just keeping the rumor alive instead of letting it quiet down, you might be causing more pain and embarrassment to the victim.
1Although public information may be related in an incidental manner not designed to further publicize the information (e.g., "I think you should limit your consumption of junk food. Don't you remember how Shmuel gave a speech explaining how he gained so much weight from overeating junk food? I don't want that to happen to you."), it is not permitted if the intent or manner of discussion of the known information is disparaging ("What a fatso Shmuel is!" "I know, right?!").– FredApr 21 at 20:26
@Fred I agree and think I made that clear in my post. If you think it's not clear you can by all means edit my post.– AvrahamApr 21 at 20:50