Online defamation and negative reviews can severely damage your reputation. If you (or your business) are being defamed online, there are things you can do to mitigate or avoid reputational harm. Even if your budget is tight, there are free tips and tools you can use to stop online defamation and maintain a positive online presence.
At Minc Law, we have helped thousands of individuals and businesses not only remove online defamation, but develop comprehensive online reputation monitoring strategies to identify, suppress, and protect against future attacks.
Five of the best free tools and tips to stop online defamation in its tracks:
- Set up Google Alerts to track keywords related to you or your business;
- Adjust your social media privacy settings;
- Report, flag, and request content removal;
- Create your own positive online content;
- Respond to the negative content respectfully and professionally.
In this article, we will discuss each of these free online tools and tips in more detail. We will also show that you do not have to be a defamation attorney or professional to take control of your online reputation.
Set Up Google Alerts
Google Alerts is the most commonly used tool to monitor Internet activity. The alerts notify users when Google finds new search results that match a user’s search term. For instance, a business owner may set up a Google Alert for any mention of their business name. Google will then notify the business owner if the name pops up in any new results – from web pages to newspaper articles, blogs, or any other content.
While Google Alerts does not prevent online defamation, they are a great tool to track what is being published online. If you are alerted to a defamatory statement or negative content in real-time, you will be able to respond quickly to suppress or remove the content. This is much better than hearing about negative online content through the grapevine – after it has already circulated through multiple readers.
Even better, the service is free and easy to use. Simply set up alerts for any terms that could be linked to you via Google’s Alert service. If you own a business it may also be wise to set up alerts for terms like < your business name + scam, fraud, or ripoff >. That way you can ward off negative online content as soon as it is published.
This tip may seem simple, but you would be surprised to learn how few people use social media privacy settings. Time and time again we have seen content that a client posted or shared on social media later re-posted in a harmful way. It is quite easy for others to take a social media post out of context – and the content can be used to defame the original poster.
The good news is that there is a relatively simple “fix” to this problem: change your privacy settings. If you increase your privacy settings on social media accounts (especially those you wish to remain personal and private) you can reduce your chances of experiencing cyber defamation.
While nothing on the Internet is truly private, changing privacy settings and remaining mindful of what you are sharing is key to protecting your reputation. Even posts that were meant to be shared with only a few close friends could be screenshotted and shared publicly.
In this case, we remind clients that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is more effective to keep a close eye on what you are sharing and who you are sharing it with than it is to perform damage control after something negative leaks and is used against you.
Social media privacy settings are not always intuitive, so I will go into more detail about how to protect your online reputation through simple settings adjustments.
First, you need to review what information you are publicly sharing on social media.
On social media platforms, there are sometimes options to share your hometown, birthday, high school, and other personal information. These are considered personal identifiers. To completely protect yourself from Internet defamation and possible identity theft, we recommend sharing as little as possible when it comes to personal identifiers.
Posting personal information publicly can make it easier for others to log in or hack into your account. If you have ever forgotten your password, you have likely answered security questions. Many platforms use similar types of security questions, like “What street did you grow up on?”; “What is your mother’s maiden name?”; “What was the name of your high school?”
The problem is, many people share the answers to these types of questions on their social media profiles in “get to know you” lists, pop culture quizzes, and other interactive surveys and games – without realizing they are setting themselves up for identity theft or hacking.
The less personal identifiers you reveal online, the more secure your accounts (and reputation) will remain.
Most social media sites allow you to change your privacy settings to only allow friends to view your photos. By restricting the individuals who can view your photos, you reduce the risk of someone taking a personal photo and sharing it elsewhere on the Internet.
Not only have we helped clients who had photos shared to shaming sites like thedirty.com, but we have also seen clients subjected to inappropriate photoshopping. An otherwise innocent photo can be altered to appear less-than-innocent, leaving you to defend your reputation against baseless attacks and harassment.
How to Improve Your Privacy on Popular Social Media Websites
- Consider making your content visible only to those on your friends list. There is also an option to only make photos available for your viewing only.
- Avoid any ‘public’ settings.
- Make your Twitter profile private so that only approved followers can view your content. This means your Tweets will not appear in search engine results.
- Change your privacy settings to ‘posts are private’ and only approved followers will be able to view your content.
- Remember that even if your posts are private, users can still view your bio.
- Privacy settings can be changed regarding who can send you Snaps and who can view your Stories.
- We suggest choosing that only friends can view your stories or you may want to create a custom list as to who can see your Stories to be even more secure.
Reporting, Flagging, & Requesting Content Removal
Sometimes removing unwanted or defamatory content is as simple as reporting or flagging the content to the website. The terms, “flagging” and “reporting” are interchangeable depending on the platform, but ultimately mean the same thing.
This method is not always successful but can be helpful when trying to remove content that violates the platform’s terms of service or community standards.
How to Report & Flag Content
Before flagging or reporting content, it helps to review the platform’s policies or terms and conditions. This way, when you flag content, you can explain how the content breaks the platform’s rules and why it should be removed. Because first attempts to get defamatory material and content removed from a platform can make subsequent attempts more difficult, it is imperative to do your homework. Like most situations in life, you may not get a second chance to make a first impression.
For instance, be prepared to explain how the defamatory statement or content violates the platform’s standards (does it contain nudity, racism, or bullying?). If the post defames you or your business, explain how and why the content is defamatory (i.e., the commenter is a competitor and was never a customer of your business, so their content is fake).
Also, identify if the post reveals your private personal information such as your home address or social security number. The more information you can provide the platform regarding the rule-breaking content, the better your chances of removal.
Granted, reporting or flagging content does not work 100% of the time because content moderators are not attorneys or defamation experts. Most of the time they will not take a legal stance (unless the content is obviously illegal like child pornography) but it is worth a try.
You should always preserve or save a copy of the content before reporting in case you need a copy in the future. If you are not successful, there are other ways to remove content from the Internet. If the content is serious, was posted anonymously, or you have concerns about reposts, that is often a sign that you will need professional help.
For more details about how to report defamatory content on Facebook, check out our article, “How to Report Slander and Libel on Facebook.”
Sometimes getting negative content removed is as simple as requesting its removal. As long as you kindly and ask the original poster to remove the content, the worst they can do is say no.
Of course, not all content posters are cooperative, but some are, and that makes this free strategy worthwhile. The most important thing to remember is to remain professional and courteous – do not give the original poster any fodder to use against you (or a reason to be confrontational).
Use Free Gating Tools
A gating tool is a free form of relief that you can ask for directions from the website where the content was posted. Gating tools are a preventative measure for website hosts to block or remove any negative reviews that are submitted in the future. It is best to reserve this type of request for extreme cases of defamation and libel where you are being attacked by a person (or multiple people).
Gating tools are most likely to be successful if you have multiple reviews that say the same thing in a short period of time. In general, many similar negative reviews in a short timeframe indicate that just one person may be behind the attacks.
If you are a business owner, like a doctor with your own practice and you are experiencing negative or fake reviews, gating tools can be helpful to remove defamatory reviews. They also may prevent future negative “attack” reviews.
Gating tools, like most other free tools for combating online defamation, only work when others are willing to cooperate with you. The best chance for using these tools successfully revolves around a courteous dialogue. Website hosts hold the power to help you and you do not want to anger them by making threats or demands.
Even though online defamation can trigger strong emotions, it is important to keep your cool. Keep all communications respectful and you will improve your chances of these tools working to your benefit.
We at Minc Law have proven success with clients in preventing future attacks using this exact tool. In one libel case, we were able to request a gating tool for a medical professional whose business was attacked and suffered serious harm on a medical review site. The website agreed to remove the false and defamatory reviews and block any incoming negative reviews as well.
Create Your Own Content to Control Your Online Presence
By creating your own content, you can take advantage of the same suppression strategies used by reputation management companies. Suppression is merely the act of creating other (positive) content to bury unwanted or negative content from appearing in your search results.
What Content Should I Create?
Depending on your situation, you may want to create a blog (or several) using WordPress or Blogger. You can also buy domain names in your own name or business name and create websites about yourself or your business. You will have to pay for the domain, but domains are relatively cheap. You can also create a website using free sub-domain names like <www.yourname.wordpress.com>.
LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and Wikipedia are also great sites to create content. If you already have these accounts or a blog in place, make sure you are keeping them up to date and optimizing what you already have.
If you own a business and are worried about negative reviews, taking control of your online presence can boost your online reputation and combat defamation. If your reviews are suffering or you do not have very many reviews, try reaching out to clients who had a good experience and ask them to write reviews for you on Google, Yelp, and the Better Business Bureau. Positive reviews can boost your overall rating in addition to suppressing negative or defamatory reviews.
Businesses should also establish a positive online presence. Your business should have social media pages, like Facebook and Instagram where you can post about your business or current events or interesting news happening in your area of business. Publishing blogs to your website or creating YouTube videos can also help boost your online presence.
The more positive content you have out there about your company, the more it combats negative or defamatory content. Over time, your social media profiles, blogs, and other websites will show up in your search results which can combat any negative or unwanted content.
Content suppression can be tricky if you are not sure how to do it. It can also be time-consuming and not all business owners have the extra time to generate their own content. If you run into this problem, consider hiring a professional who specializes in online reputation management.
Respond to the Negative Content Respectfully & Professionally
At Minc Law, we often advise our clients not to respond publicly to Internet defamation, because if done wrong, it can lead to more harm than good. However, it can be a free and effective way to stop online defamation if you follow a few simple rules.
Here are some pointers for responding to online defamation:
- Do not respond when you are upset. Take a break and respond when you are in a calm state of mind.
- Do not trash or defame the other person by posting a false statement of fact. Respond politely no matter how rude the defamer is. Always take the high road to give other readers a positive impression of you (and your business).
- Make your response clear and concise. Then, have someone else read over your response before posting to ensure your tone cannot be misconstrued.
If you are a medical professional, it is crucial to remember HIPAA rules when responding. Be careful not to reveal any confidential or personal health information. Often it is best to encourage the person to reach out so you can resolve the issue privately. Learn more about responding to negative medical reviews here.
If Free Tools Are Not Enough, Contact a Professional
Free tools are a great place to start when it comes to preventing and combating online defamation. But, if you find yourself in a position where the free tools are not enough, an online defamation law firm can help.
Victoriya did an amazing job with the defamation removal. It was gone within 3 days. She kept me informed about the process and got it done quickly!
Angela R.,Oct 25, 2019
At Minc Law, we know the ins and outs of United States defamation law and have helped more than 2,500 clients respond to online defamation and remove over 50,000 pieces of defamatory material and digital content. Check out our blog to learn more about how we can help or contact us for a free consultation.