Hot issues about the internet and increasing use of content from multi-sources, is defamation. According to the Internet Defamation Law Blog, a 1964 decision of the Supreme Court established that: ‘truth is an absolute defense against defamation.
They further found that in order to bring a cause of action for defamation, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant:
published a statement about the plaintiff that was defamatory while acting with either actual intent or reckless disregard, i.e. malice (if the plaintiff was a public official or public figure) or negligence (if the plaintiff was a private individual) regarding the truth of the statement.
Subsequent judgements have created a broad immunity for some aspects of internet publication. It is after all, a relatively new genre, and the law takes time often to catch up.
That remains something like the situation in the UK too. Indeed, the internet’s exponential rise has given understandable parallel growth to lawyers/solicitors who specialise in cases of people being wronged by others in the public domain. The law is traditionally a minefield waiting to trap the unwary.
New Opportunities for Some
So, new developments create new job opportunities for many entrepreneurial minded businesses. One such is the current campaign by Norwich solicitors Leathes Prior which is both timely and well-targeted at internet inputters.
They say, ‘Internet defamation can prove costly. To ignore it is not an option for anybody who wishes to maintain their professional reputation online’. Since all business futures still hang on reputation, it is a point well made.
Their definition of defamation is: ‘A defamatory statement is one which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally which causes him/her to be shunned or avoided or to expose him/her to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to disparage him/her in his/her office, profession or calling.’
March 2012 saw the first case in England for a defamatory tweet, where cricketer Chris Cairns was awarded £90,000 damages. Twitter libel became a reality this year.
Leathes Prior warn: Any person who “participates” in the publishing of a defamatory statement may be liable. This will include the individual who posts defamatory remarks, as happened in the Cairns case, but may also include the owner or publisher of the forum, blog or website’.
English Legal System
The cornerstones of the legal system remain, as Leathes Prior say: ‘freedom of speech and the right to express an opinion legitimately held’. That should apply in an ideal world to the web as well. However, the unregulated nature of it (though that is and will change radically), means that defamatory posts and blogs on forums and social media are becoming ubiquitous.
It’s not just celebrities who feel they have been libeled and are obliged to bring court action against the individual(s) or groups who are publishing defamatory statements. Leathes Prior will happily take up anybody’s case who feels slighted, who has had their good name tarnished. Where the originator hides behind a pseudonym or anonymous post, then the site host can be pursued.
This firm’s Internet Protection package includes monitoring through Google Updates, legal advice on actions open to users, writing to publishers and/or others involved to address the offending material ‘in a timely manner’. They also offer a scheme to tackle a one-off, particular adverse problem.
Another company looking out for people’s good name is Reputation.com, who ask people simply: ‘Is there something you don’t want showing up in Google?”
Fewer employers ask for references or backgrounds nowadays, they simply ask Google, and ‘if your name turns up in news reports, legal filings, embarrassing party photos, or other questionable material, you’re likely to get passed over’.
To promote their work ‘to make you look your best online’, they point out 4 key facts:
1. You are ALL your search results . When people Google your name, they take the results at face value and judge you on that information, even if it’s untrue (or about someone else).
2. Negative content hurts . The longer a bad link appears in your search results, the more people see it and the more damage it does to your career, finances, and your relationships.
3. There are no second chances . Because it’s so easy to look elsewhere on the Internet, unflattering search results can severely limit opportunities for improving your life and livelihood.
4. The Internet never forgets.
Once something negative is posted online about you it’s there forever, slowly eroding your reputation and limiting your opportunities for advancement.
Reputation.com says that while only the person who posted remarks can delete them, they can effectively ‘make go away’ misleading, inaccurate or negative content from appearing high in Google ratings. Most people find what they’re looking for in the first three results three quarters of the time. 84% of searchers never look past the first page, so anything after that can be ‘to all intents and purposes rendered invisible’.
So what they do is work hard to push your good, positive content higher, which causes future negative comments, police reports, bankruptcy filings, court judgments to fall lower.
They have the strapline: ‘Take back control of your search results now’.
Try self Googling if you are in any doubt about whether you need legal action and/or preventative protection.