Whether you are an individual or a business owner, you need to be aware that the Internet has become a ripe forum for gripers to express their dislikes, dissatisfactions, bad experiences and personal distastes. Defamation on the Internet can ruin your personal and professional life because it may be viewable online forever. Online defamation is considered libel – a defamatory statement that takes printed or broadcast form. Libel is much more damaging than slander – a spoken statement – since it is fixed and can be widely distributed.
The ease with which such allegations may be read by others, worldwide with the click of a mouse, makes it essential you have counsel to swiftly act to remove the posting and save you and your business’ reputation. Since the Web site owner whose platform hosts the defamatory remarks is usually not liable for the content, it is essential you have the tools to undercover the defamer’s true identity, which is almost always concealed, so that you can pursue legal action against them directly to save your reputation. You must understand under what limited circumstances the Web site owner whose platform hosts the content may remove the material and how – despite concerted attempts to remain anonymous – the defamer’s identity can be discovered using the right strategy and know-how.
To make out a case of defamation, there must be a false statement purporting to be fact concerning another person or entity, publication or communication of that statement to a third person, fault on the part of the person making the statement amounting to intent or at least negligence, and some harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement. Because of its very nature, a posting on the Internet will always meet the publication element.
Other forums similar to Web sites where defamation occurs include blogs, e-mail, message boards, electronic mailing lists (e-mailed compilations of newsgroup or forum posts) and newsgroups, all of which can also be printed and distributed. Real time forums for potential defamation include instant messages and chat rooms. These posts disappear more quickly, but they may be preserved by archiving or screenshot programs. All of the foregoing may also be printed and distributed widely.
When you are defamed, it is important to act quickly because you only have one to three years following publication to pursue the individual or entity defaming you – the statute of limitations on Internet material begins when the information is first published, and courts have rejected the claim that publication on the Web constitutes continuous publication: updating the Web site will not affect that rule unless the particular material alleged to be defamatory is altered.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
You may also be able to pursue a defamer on a related theory such as intentional infliction of emotional distress. In most states, the elements required to show intentional infliction of emotional distress are that the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, that the defendant either intended or was aware that the action would cause emotional distress, that you suffered severe or extreme emotional distress and that the cause of the suffering was the defendant’s conduct.
Protect Your Business from Trade Libel
Defamation includes trade libel, an area of law that protects your product or business from being harmed by false allegations. The elements of a cause of action for trade libel include that the defendant made a statement that disparaged the quality of your product or business, the statement was made out as fact rather than opinion, the statement was false, the statement was made with bad intentions and the statement resulted in monetary loss to you or your product or business. If the target of libelous content is your business, you must act fast to stop the defendant’s actions, recover your damages and save your business’ reputation.