How to handle online defamation

The fact that anyone can turn to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to post a negative review of a hairdresser, plumber or politician, indeed to denigrate whatever or whoever they choose, in the heat of the moment or otherwise, has resulted in defamation being wheeled out increasingly regularly as a legal tool.

But the nature of social media means that the resolution process is also increasingly likely to be played out in public view, requiring legal and communications to work closely together.

A prominent London-based media and defamation lawyer with whom I met recently advises the following broad principles for dealing with online defamation:

  • Balance the legal and reputational aspects of defamation carefully from the get-go
  • Negotiate a reasonable solution where possible and deploy litigation only as the final solution
  • When an issue is legally black and white, move fast to limit the potential for the falsehood to escalate
  • Make sure to use language that is user-friendly rather than overtly legalistic in all instances.

This is music to the ears of communicators, who are often left to deal with the reputational impact of legal strong-arming.

The principles above are laid out in an article I have penned for PR Week Asia. The missive compares the Singapore government’s heavy handling of blogger Roy Ngerng’s dissection of the country’s Central Provident Fund and subsequent attack on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with the initially flawed and subsequently more sensitive approach employed by IKEA towards Australian blogger and supporter Jules Yap over her use of company trademarks and commercial advertising on her fan site IKEA Hackers.

Too close for comfort?

Picture credit: IKEA Hackers

 

As Sydney Morning Herald investigative reporter Michaela Whitbourn noted in a recent article, the more TripAdvisor, eBay and Facebook are used to post reviews and the more aware organisations are of the importance of their online reputations, the more online defamation is emerging as a legal and reputational battleground.

I will explore this topic in more detail shortly.

 

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