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Online Defamation And Your Rights

Defamation And Its Rise On The Internet

The Internet has had a massive impact on many areas of personal and professional life. Defamation laws and libel lawsuits are one such area and many individuals, businesses, and website owners have fallen foul of the belief that they can write anything about anybody when they are online. In light of the increase in libelous comments governments, judges, and courts around the world have extended their own laws and regulations to include comments made online as well as in other more traditional forms of media.

While defamation, in the shape of slanderous and libelous comments, has been around for many decades, the problem has been exacerbated by the advance of the Internet as a reporting and social tool. While comments made in newspapers and even on the TV have a limited shelf life, those made on the Internet can remain on the website where they were first added as well as on other blogs and websites and even in the cache of search engines for many more years.

Fortunately, this same problem also leads to a possible resolution. While successfully trying an online defamation case can prove difficult, positive comments and good SEO can be used to beat defamatory comments by consigning them to lower search engine positions. This may not be an absolute solution but it can certainly help to rebuild character and improve online branding following a defamatory attack.

Have you Google’d your name or the name of your company? How do the search results look? Do you see anything negative? We specialize in cleaning and securing your search results. For more information please click here.

What Is Defamation?

The publication or broadcast of any libelous or slanderous statement about an individual or business that can be proven to be false and published with the intention of harming that entity's reputation is considered to be defamation. Online defamation is the publication of such statements made on any Internet based media including blogs, forums, websites, and even social networking websites. While many Internet users believe that they are free to say and do as they like while on the Internet, this is untrue and the same defamation laws and regulations stand for online defamation as they do in any form of media.

Acts And Laws That Govern Online Defamation

As social networking and blogging have become popular tools for Internet users to voice their opinion and get involved in discussions, online defamation cases have also been on the rise. While there are very few or no specific online defamation acts, libel lawsuits that cite the Communications Decency Act have been successfully been tried in courts around the world. Also, there are rumors that some countries around the world, especially the UK, are set to release specific online defamation laws that deal specifically with these laws.

The Communications Decency Act Of 1996

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) was actually established to try and deal with the publication of pornography and other adult content freely and widely available on the Internet. However, it was also created in a bid to combat any indecent and defamatory content found on websites and other online publications.

Section 230 of the CDA is the section that is perhaps most relevant to online defamation. It attempts to deal with the question of an ISP's liability to content that is stored on their servers. Although it does not specifically outline all instances, it does contend that an ISP is not responsible for the information published by their users unless and until they are informed of any infringement; at this point, the ISP should act to remove the content or face legal action themselves.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 can be viewed in full at the FCC website - http://www.fcc.gov/Reports/tcom1996.txt

The Difficulties With Proving Defamatory Comments

Much of the difficulty that surrounds successfully winning an online defamation case is brought about because the plaintiff must first prove who the publisher or writer of the statement is and, secondly, that the statement is false and written with the intention of causing damage.

Tracing an individual that has posted a defamatory comment can prove very difficult. It is certainly possible to find out the details of a computer that was used to publish a statement or post content. However, if this is a public computer then it is almost impossible to narrow down the search in order to find the culprit. With Internet access being afforded to computers in Internet cafes, libraries, businesses, and other public areas, this makes it very difficult to find the source of the illegal content.

Section 230 Of The CDA And The ISP's Responsibility

ISPs are no longer considered to be responsible for the information that their users publish online. However, numerous court cases and other actions have led to ISPs being forced to remove content from their servers and even provide personal details including the IP address of known offenders. Some ISPs will act quickly to remove defamatory content from their servers because once informed of its existence they are also considered guilty of defamation to some degree.

For all the difficulties involved with successfully trying an online defamation case, many plaintiffs have been successful in their cases although varying degrees of success have been reported. A list of some of the cases that deal with Section 230 of the CDA can be viewed at the Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions - http://www.internetlibrary.com/topics/comm_decency_act.cfm

 

Successful Lawsuits Gone Bad

The court case results only show a partial picture of the level of success that can be achieved. The ability to publicly recant a statement online is not the same as it is through other media and the libelous claims can still remain on the original website or blog. The statements may have also been published on other blogs and references on numerous other websites as well as being found in the cache of search engines. Success in court does not help to alleviate these problems and in some cases the problem has actually worsened.

Alsher Usmanov And Craig Murray

One such case involved Alsher Usmanov, a well known Ukrainian businessman who owned shares in a successful English football club. Former UK ambassador to the Ukraine, Craig Murray, wrote a book and a blog on Usmanov's alleged criminal activities and during an attempt to right the defamation, Usmanov's lawyers sent “cease and desist” letters to host Fasthost. Following an unsuccessful attempt by Fasthost to have the content removed, Fasthost closed down all websites belonging to the site's administrator including several high profile websites belonging to other individuals and organizations.

Murray's blog was eventually republished elsewhere and rather than helping to combat the effects of the defamation, this action caused more negative press for Usmanov and simply brought greater media attention to the work of Craig Murray.

Combating Defamatory Comments Using The Internet

A knowledge of how the Internet works is critical to successfully combating online defamation and there are steps you can take either alongside or instead of legal action. It is also important to understand the readers of a particular post or viewers of other defamatory content online. While newspaper and magazine reporting is heavily regulated, citizen journalism and online commenting is not as easily enforced and many informed readers do understand this; at least to some degree.

Social networks are certainly one area of online publication that are rife with instances of online defamation. Posting considered and factual responses to any allegations can prove a fruitful first step. You can also post comments on your own site and through other publishing avenues that you regularly use.

Positive Results Using The Internet And SEO

One individual started a particularly vociferous hate campaign against the country's largest dairy producer. He established hate sites using similar domain names and set about trying to bring down the company's reputation. The company published their own versions of events on their website and encouraged employees to do the same. Not only has the hate content stopped being published but anybody that searches under the company's name will find that their own content is listed far above the hate content posted by one disgruntled individual.

This use of SEO can extend beyond the borders of your own Internet real estate too. Social networking websites, blogs, forums, and other types of online publication can be created in order to combat online defamation. Positive posts and comments can be placed on pages that are intended to target the negative exposure that a company has received in order to consign these to the lower echelons of the search results. While the original content may not be removed, it can be beaten using this technique while also generating improved search results for your own website.

This type of hate or negative press campaign is usually short lived because continued efforts are required on the part of the individual or group that started it. While it is in the best interests of your business to counteract the defamatory comments, most individuals will eventually tire of posting these comments.

Personal Opinions

It should be noted that personal opinion on any topic can be posted on blogs, websites, and other sources but according to defamation laws and statutes, libelous comments cannot be thinly veiled as personal opinion and judges and courts will consider each statement or comment accordingly to ascertain whether or not it truly is an expression of personal opinion or is, in fact, a defamatory comment.

The Statute Of Limitations

Another point of note is that a statute of limitations does exist for online content, and while these statutes do differ in some states, the most common statute lasts for a period of twelve months. This period starts from when the comment is first posted online since claims that publishing on the Internet is the equivalent of continuous publication have already been rejected by most courts.

Protect Yourself And Your Business With Media Liability Insurance

Media liability insurance can be obtained through many insurance companies and these policies are created to specifically deal with the costs of defamation through online and offline sources. These can prove to be an inexpensive way to help counteract future problems but costs of around $3,000 and upwards per annum can make them too expensive for smaller blogs and websites. These often also include a considerable minimum deductible of twice the value of the annual premium (a minimum of $6,000 in some cases) to afford coverage of up to $1m.

The Ramifications Of Legal Action

Legal action should be considered a last resort because it can prove very costly and results can vary. However, if this does appear to be your final option then legal action can start with “cease and desist” letters and a number of other steps, eventually culminating in a lawsuit that involves damages and punitive costs. If all else fails then this may prove to be your only option at setting the record straight.

Know Your Rights With Regards To Online Defamation

To conclude, defamation and defamatory comments are as much a problem on the Internet than in other forms of media if not more so. However, the same rules govern online publications as newspaper and other forms of media so there are steps and actions that can be taken to remedy the situation. Ensuring that hate sites and defamatory comments appear lower down search listings by employing sound SEO and counteractive measures should be your first consideration but if legal action is necessary then there are records of numerous successful legal campaigns for you to take heart from.

Have you Google’d your name or the name of your company? How do the search results look? Do you see anything negative? We specialize in cleaning and securing your search results. For more information please click here.

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