How to Deal with Online Defamation

15 Aug 2018

How to Deal with Online Defamation

Online Defamation And Damage To Your Business

Social media platforms are great for posting thoughts and reflections, but unfortunately, they are also a forum for attacking other users, members of the public and businesses. The medium of choice for trolls is generally Twitter, and with the number of tweets sent globally now up to 6,000 every second, it is a growing phenomenon. How should you respond to defamatory comments about your business?

Reading untrue or hurtful comments online about your business is embarrassing and upsetting. It can be mortifying to think of the comments being circulated and read widely. It is even worse if the comments are not just criticisms but are defamatory, i.e. untrue and damaging.

But the defamation laws apply online as well as offline. If you have suffered damage to your business reputation as a result of being defamed on social media, the courts will protect you. They can order offending posters or tweeters to retract their comments and pay compensation.

It does not matter whether someone has launched a deliberate attack on your reputation, or fired off a tweet in anger, or even retweeted a statement made by someone else. If the post or tweet is read and your reputation has suffered serious damage, then you could pursue a claim for online libel.

How To Respond To Online Defamation

It’s tempting to rush into immediate action, fight fire with fire, and charge into an online battle with all guns blazing. However, a better response is to stay calm and avoid any immediate direct response. Don’t retaliate or engage in a war of words. This could undermine any claim, or lead to you yourself being accused of defamation.

Instead, take these steps:

  • Act quickly to preserve relevant evidence. Print out all relevant web pages (with date stamps), to show all relevant posts and tweets, including the number of followers the people concerned have. Repeat this for any reposts and retweets and each individual retweeter. Were the allegations repeated on other platforms? Capture that information as well.
  • Record the occasions when the offensive post or tweet is brought to your attention. This is to have a record of damage to your reputation caused by them. For instance, make a note of when someone asks you about it, or you see a reference to it in the paper, or elsewhere online. You will then be able to demonstrate (to the court, if necessary) that the offending item has been read.
  • Report it to the platform, i.e. to Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. Their abuse policies allow users to report abusive content and ask for it to be removed.
  • Demand a retraction and apology from the poster or tweeter, and possibly compensation. Ideally, this demand will be offline, i.e. by a letter to their home address, if you can find it. The reason for this is that it brings home to the individual the ‘real world’ consequences of their actions. People feel anonymous and untouchable online, but once they realise that what they’ve done will hit them in their pocket, they are likely to become contrite and more reasonable.

In serious cases, you should take legal advice quickly. If you need to issue court proceedings, you have only 12 months from the date of the post or tweet to do so. Acting quickly will also demonstrate the significance of the damage to your reputation.