They’re Lying! How to Combat Online Defamation

Has anyone ever posted false information about you or your company online? I don’t mean things you would prefer not to be out there but​ completely false and potentially damaging information. If you have you know how overwhelming it can seem to get this information down because it can so quickly “go viral” and often is unattributable. Luckily, there are steps you can take to get this information down.

First Line of Defense: Terms of Service
Most online service providers (OSPs)​ have Terms of Service (ToS) or Terms of Use (ToU) that govern the use of their website. Usually those terms prohibit the posting of defamatory material and include the OSP’s right to remove such content.  Even websites that offer consumers places to “vent” and post complaints about companies and individuals, such as RipOffReport.com and Complaints.com,  usually require that users post only information that is truthful and accurate.  Unfortunately, there is not validation process to confirm accuracy prior to posting.

If you identify false and potentially defamatory information about you or your company online, your first step is to check the site’s terms of service. If this is a violation of their terms of service, contact the OSP where the content is posted and notify them of the violation of their terms of service.  Many of the sites we frequent and use to promote our businesses have forms or contact emails designated for this purpose. At the end of this post you will find resources for reporting defamation on a few of the most popular social media sites.

The Content is on its own Website
If you identify potentially defamatory content on a website created but the poster they are not likely to have terms of service that you can use to make a case for removal. However, contact information is required when someone registers a website so you can often obtain the relevant contact information through a WhoIs search on a registrar website, such as whois.domaintools.com. Armed with this information you can work with an attorney to draft a cease and desist letter that will hopefully result in the removal of the content. Site owners do have the option for private registration so if they have elected this service this option is not feasible. Additionally, you should reserve this course of action for sites stood up by the poster because hosts, ISPs, and other OSPs are protected from litigation under the Communications Decency Act.

Dealing with Mr. Anonymous
If you are unable to identify the poster or are unable to get assistance from the OSP you still have legal recourse to get the content removed. Legal proceedings can be commenced against anonymous “John Doe” Internet users.  Once an action is filed, a subpoena can be served on the host website to obtain the Internet Protocol (“IP”) address of the perpetrator, as well as other personally identifiable information (“PII”). You can also subpoena the ISP that assigned the IP address to discover the perpetrator’s identity.

Beware of SLAPP
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, which essentially is a lawsuit filed against a defendant in retaliation for speaking out on a public issue or controversy in, for example, a blog or social media. The goal is to burden them with legal fees until they abandon their criticism. Over half of the states in the United States and District of Columbia have enacted “anti-SLAPP” legislation to protect an individual’s right to free speech and prevent such lawsuits.  “Public issues” include those involving celebrities, public officials and the financial solvency of large companies.

The defendant can use SLAPP to get the suit dismissed. If a defendant is able to demonstrate that the SLAPP action was brought merely for harassment purposes, he or she may file a “SLAPPback” lawsuit against the plaintiff.

If the potentially defamatory statement is not of public interest about a public issue, there really is no SLAPP concern.  Of course, if the subject statement truly is defamatory and all of the elements of a defamation claim are present, there really is no SLAPP concern either way. Make sure the content you seek removal for is truly defamatory if you elect to pursue a lawsuit or other legal action. 

Have you ever been the victim of defamatory content online? How did you handle it? Do you have any tips to add?

Content Removal Resources:

 

​**”Defamation” is a catch-all term for any statement that hurts someone’s reputation. Written defamation is called “libel,” and spoken defamation is called “slander.” Defamation is a legal conclusion that can only be made by a judge. ​

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s