The Internet and the forms of electronic publishing and communication it facilitates have provided an economic boon to many businesses. Whereas decades ago the forms of marketing available were broad based and didn’t allow fine targeting of markets, this changed with the Internet revolution. Today, companies and businesses can market broadly on general interest sites or extremely narrowly to focused niches on social media sites or based on user profiles on search engines like Google. Likewise, individuals the Internet has revolutionized communication for individuals by providing a global potential audience for all who participates.
However, despite the economic and communication benefits typically provided by the Internet, the web and its social media sites can also act as something of a double-edged sword. While businesses and marketers can spread their message easily, so can customers who have had a bad experience, fanboys and fangirls who are invested in a rival company’s ecosystem, and others who are simply looking to flame and attack the hard work you have invested into your product and services. Likewise, malicious individuals can use social media websites and platforms to slander and attack an individual for revenge or other reasons.
Thus, individuals and organizations ranging from small businesses to large corporations often want to know the actions they can take to protect themselves or their brand against baseless defamation. Furthermore, in instances where a false and defamatory review may have resulted in lost sales and decreased revenue, they may want to know whether the site and the poster can be held accountable for their actions.
The Internet Defamation Lawyers of Minc Law can work to remove the false, malicious, or vindictive review. Furthermore, we may be able to work to hold the individual user, and in some cases, the site accountable. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with an intake specialist, call (216) 373-7706 today.
Like in the Real World, Defamation Can Lead to Damages & Civil Liability
In our culture the First Amendment holds a special and elevated place. As such, many people frequently argue that the First Amendment entitles them to say anything they want, how they want, and when they want regardless of the consequences. However, the courts have long-held that the First Amendment is subject to certain limits reflected in the famous aphorism, “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” While this illustrates one limit on free speech, it does miss the point in some ways in that the text of the First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [emphasis added]
Thus, the First Amendment applies principally to government restraints on speech. While initially applying to only the federal government, the amendment was later incorporated through the 14th Amendment to also apply to the states. Thus, when people assert their First Amendment right to speak falsehoods publicly, they largely miss the point of the protections that are provided. Furthermore, they miss the court’s longstanding willingness to impose civil liability that has always applied to forms of defamatory speech like libel and slander.
Who Can Be Held Liable for Defamatory Online Speech
While the individual user who actually writes and posts the defamatory story, comment, or report can always potentially be held liable for a perceived defamatory statement, the analysis is more complicated when it comes to the site or platform where the comment is posted. In many if not most cases, the defamatory statements posted online are often in the comment, review, and social platform sections of websites. In other cases, the site itself may be populated entirely or predominately with user-generated content. While many people feel that the site itself should be liable, the simple fact is that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides broad protections to sites that host materials. This safe harbor protects the sites themselves from liability and often results in a counterclaim being filed against any company or individual who is unaware of this fact.
For sites that do not host user-generated content and rely on a traditional editorial model or are simply the views of a single person on a personal website or a site founded for a certain purpose, traditional notions of defamation law hold true. However, potential litigants would be wise to consider the potential for collection of any judgement and furthermore their ability to prove damages. Often times, working directly with the site is more productive to secure a removal of the offending content before significant damage can occur. Using a lawyer to facilitate these negotiations can put distance between the defamed party and the alleged defamer providing perspective and keeping discussions professional. Furthermore, an attorney can assess the situation in an unbiased matter to determine the next appropriate step to take to handle the defamation.