Doing business in the internet age requires a website and a perhaps also a business blog, allowing you to market to the entire world. However, giving the whole world access to your information can occasionally become problematic.
Sadly, there are some people who have nothing better to do than to try to give you bad publicity. Most often, these are just mischievous anonymous attacks, sometimes they are competitors hoping to stir you up, and occasionally they are disgruntled former customers.
Monitor Your Business Name
As a part of your business plan you should make sure you keep an eye on the internet, just as you would regularly check any other marketing,
Google offers a very useful feature called Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts).
Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query term. I have Google Alerts set up to email me daily whenever “Jane De Ath” or “Oak Web Design” are mentioned anywhere new on the internet.
Once you have Google Alerts set up , check any sites you are advised of, and if you discover defamatory comments, take note of the site and the comment.
Online defamation can be upsetting, but whatever you do…
If you discover a negative comment then consider your next step very carefully.
Option 1 – Ignore It
The first and simplest way to deal with an online attack is to simply ignore it.
By ignoring an attacker you deny them what they crave most – your attention. Flaming or negative comments will soon get old and, hopefully, your attacker will move on to someone who responds to their comments more aggressively.
If the comments continue, and if you feel they constitute a serious threat to your business, consider option 2.
Option 2 – Contact the Site
Any reputable website will have a contact email address, so it may be worthwhile contacting the website, explaining what is happening and requesting that they delete the posts and monitor any further posts. At the very minimum, ask the site owner to immediately delete any reference to real names and contact information as legally they shouldn’t have allowed that in the first place.
If your request is ignored, it is time to start making records. Take screenshots, and email them to yourself so you have proof of the date. Also save copies of your emails to the site where you asked them to redress the problem.
Option 3 – Legal Action
Unfortunately some attackers do not give up and this could potentially affect your business and make you lose revenue. If this occurs, you are within your rights to sue the person defaming you and exact compensation for the damages.
There is a long held belief that if the defamation occurred on a website not hosted in Australia you cannot sue – that is incorrect.
The definition of jurisdiction in a defamation case depends on where the writer is physically located and also where the audience is located. So just because defamation occurs on a website hosted outside Australia, if the writer is located within Australia they can still be sued.
If you decide to take legal action, a “cease-and-desist” letter from a lawyer is the first legal step.
If that fails make sure you have a print-out of every bad posting. Defamation is very fact-specific, and when you file a lawsuit, you must the exact words.
In the past, suing for online defamation was considered a costly exercise, however, check your Professional Indemnity Insurance as many policies now cover both the investigative and court costs for a defamation case. If your insurer agrees you have a case they may pay part or all of the legal costs.
Damages for defamation are not easy to prove. You need statements from people who read the original messages, stating that due to this information they decided not to do business with you and took their business elsewhere. That is the only way to prove financial loss.
For stress and health claims, you need a specific diagnosis from a doctor stating that your illness was due to the the defamation and that you required medical treatment.
Option 4 – Rethink
Once you have considered the legal process of suing for defamation, ask yourself whether it is really a good idea to take legal steps at all.
Find out if your reputation has actually been harmed. Call or email friendly clients, explain the situation and ask how they feel about the negative online comments. You will probably find you get sympathy and understanding from them and that the nasty comments are generally treated as nonsense or sour grapes from jealous competitors.