Online internet defamation is becoming a major problem for a lot of businesses in New England and across the country. One disgruntled person can be responsible for dozens of negative reviews, defamatory comments, online threats, and libelous content. Unfortunately, much of this defamatory information can be posted anonymously, making it hard for businesses to track down the responsible person.
As a business, your online reputation can have a real impact on your bottom dollar. Unethical competitors may even use overseas individuals to create a barrage of negative and harmful content that can put your business at risk. If your company or business is facing internet defamation, you need to take aggressive action to remove the harmful material and hold those responsible for the damage caused. The Katz Law Group, P.C. understands how to investigate internet defamation, identify those involved, and repair your online reputation.
Internet Defamation for Professionals and Businesses in New England
Internet defamation generally involves publishing online a false statement of fact that is harmful to one's reputation. There may be some exceptions or additional elements of showing malice where the plaintiff is a public figure. Additionally, truth can be, but is not always, a defense to defamation claims where malice is involved.
Elements of Internet Defamation
Online defamation claims involve the internet, which can make it difficult to even begin identifying the individual who published the statement. Additionally, seemingly defamatory statements may not be actionable if they clearly express an individual's opinion and a reasonable reader would not understand the statement as asserting a statement of fact.
A statement of verifiable fact is one that can be proven false. For example, writing on a board that someone is “dumb” or “an idiot,” generally conveys an opinion and is not understood by most readers as conveying a fact about an individual's intellectual capacity. However, writing that someone “steals client's money,” or “abuses his wife,” may be understood as conveying a provable fact that the individual engages in criminal theft or abuse.
Defamation may involve written statements or spoken defamation online. In general, slander involves spoken statements and libel is written defamation. Often, individuals use multiple platforms to make these statements, including crowd-sourcing review sites like Yelp, social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, or even video posts on YouTube.
Identifying Anonymous Parties and Pseudonyms in Internet Defamation
Before a company can bring a claim against an individual or group for libel or defamation, the company first has to determine who published the defamatory statements. Sometimes the individual uses their own name, email address, or social media account to make defamatory statements. However, these individuals often use anonymous accounts, multiple email accounts, or social media accounts of other people to try and hide their identity.
Identifying who made the defamatory posts or statements may require subpoenaing the records of an internet service provider (ISP), phone company, or social media company.
Protecting Online Reputation
Some companies rely on their online reputation more than others. Even a couple of libelous comments could lead to a downturn in business, loss of customers or clients, and reputational harm. With so much at risk, it is important for companies to be vigilant when it comes to serious defamatory statements.
Less serious complaints may include general dissatisfaction with the company's products and services. Even if the statement is not entirely true, many online readers take these individual claims as evidence of a single, unhappy customer. However, vigilant defamers may go to extreme efforts to create dozens of false reviews and claims that can be much more harmful.
Serious defamation may involve accusing the company, owners, or family members of criminal activities, including theft, embezzlement, sexual abuse, domestic violence, or other serious accusations. This can go beyond harm to business and can harm an individual's reputation in the community, or even subject someone to threats of harm.
Anyone can be responsible for making defamatory statements online. However, most libel and slander are related to personal grudges, either related to business or a personal interaction. This can include:
- Former business partners,
- Former intimate partners,
- Disgruntled former employees,
- Current employees,
- Angry customers, or
- Business competitors.
Removing Defamatory Comments
The first step in protecting a company's online reputation may involve removing the defamatory comments. A company can take immediate action upon learning about online statements that could qualify as slander or libel. Taking quick action to remove defamatory comments and alert the individual responsible to the potential civil and criminal penalties involved may quickly resolve the issue without any serious harm.
If the company is aware of who made the statements, issuing a statement from an attorney who understands internet defamation may result in the individual taking down any offending statements. This may also lead the individual to take down similar statements from other outlets or social media platforms that the business owner was not aware of.
If the individual responsible is unknown or does not respond to the notice of a possible lawsuit, the company or company's lawyer should contact the platform or website involved. The website may have policies to handle potentially libelous statements which can quickly resolve defamatory online comments even where the offender remains unknown.
Damages in Internet Defamation Lawsuits
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for a slander or libel claim is three years from the date the cause of action accrues. However, if you or your company is subject to defamatory comments, you should contact your attorney as soon as possible to make sure your claim is filed within the civil lawsuit time limit, otherwise your claim may be denied.
The damages available in an internet defamation claim may depend on the type of harm suffered. Generally, the plaintiff has to show actual harm to maintain a claim for defamation. Damages may include general money damages for the loss of business, harm to reputation, and other compensatory damages. Damages may also include punitive damages and an award for legal fees. If the online defamation is especially harmful, it can result in millions of dollars in damages.
For some businesses, an award against the individual or company making defamatory statements may also provide satisfaction and public recognition and redeem the individual or company's reputation.
Internet Defamation Attorney
The Katz Law Group, P.C. has more than 35 years experience representing businesses across Massachusetts and New England. This includes slander, libel, and defamation claims that can be damaging to founders, owners, and the company's reputation. If your company is facing an attack from libelous online claims, contact an experienced Massachusetts business litigation attorney. Contact the Katz Law Group today.