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Online defamation and harassment

Online defamation is often the cause of emotional distress and harassment

Online defamation could cause great reputational damage but also emotional distress due to the harassment. Online defamation, is often used for the sole purpose of harassing the victim and is often directed at the most unexpected victim.

Why online defamation is a form of harassment

What is online defamation

Why take legal action for online defamation and for harassment

Why speed is essential in cases of defamation and harassment

Why online defamation is a form of harassment

If you or your organisation have become a target of online defamation, or where you are aware that an attack on your reputation is imminent, you need to consider the harassing impact on you, on your family and on your employees.

It is more common, than most people think, for CEOs of large organisations to be harassed through Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and websites just because of the position they hold in the company.

Most recent examples of online defamation campaigns, that had been created against company directors, include a campaign against the CEO of a large lender, by a customer who convinced himself that he was mis-sold a mortgage, against an MD of a listed gold mining company by a disgruntled shareholder and against an owner of an airline, by a jealous competitor.

Online defamation campaigns, particularly when directed against a senior officer of a company, who otherwise leads a private life, have the most devastating impact on the unsuspecting victim and her family. Defamation against a company can be handled under a specific company law that is designed to protect company directors from being unduly influenced or take decisions under unfair pressure. If you are facing the prospect of an online defamation campaign or if you are already defamed, you might want to seek immediate defamation legal advice with specific emphasis on PR and reputation crisis management.

What is online defamation

Online defamation refers to any untrue statement posted in an online context that causes or is likely to cause serious harm to someone's reputation or to their business.

Libel defamation is in written form, including defamation published online and electronically by email or apps and slander is in verbal form. In the context of online defamation, you might be dealing with both forms of defamation simultaneously.

The potential consequence of a single defamatory post or publication can be catastrophic to one's reputations within seconds, if the negative content appears online or electronically.

Taking legal action for online defamation and for harassment

Before starting legal proceedings for defamation it is important to ensure that both the individual affected and her organisation are well prepared for the different stages of the process. You need to pay particular attention to the balancing act between the possibility of containing the current instances of defamation online and the likelihood of PR consequences following a successful and an unsuccessful outcome.

You and your lawyer must carefully assess the likelihood of success and through simulation play different PR scenarios and prepare for them. Your lawyer should have sufficient experience in the legal side and the public relations side of combating a case of online reputation attacks. Some traditional defamation lawyers don't always appreciate the specific impact of the defamation and harassment campaigns being carried out online.

Taking legal action for online defamation may not be the most sustainable way to protect your personal or your organisation's reputation but it could certainly bring an end to a harassment campaign. Here is an example of a successful outcome following a campaign of online defamation against a large company.

Why speed is essential in cases of defamation and harassment

As soon as you discover that someone is defaming you or your business on the internet, it is important to act now. First, there is a limitation period of 12 months from the date of first publication to bring a defamation case but as a victim of online defamation, you are expected to mitigate your loses by acting expeditiously.

In cases of defamation on social media, it is important to bring to an end the speedy dissemination of the information before things get out of control. Often by closing down one or two social media accounts and by sending the right message to a few more followers, it is possible to shut down an entire social media defamation campaign.  

Gather as much evidence as you can, as soon as possible, because we need to get the defamatory information off the internet before Google or other search engines put it into their search results. Other search engines may take a while to index the defamatory web pages but as long as the indexing takes, it takes the same amount of time to remove also, so this reiterates the need to act rapidly. We need to ensure that all snippets of online defamation and links are removed, too and that is something that again, needs technical expertise and experience.  

Once you are ready, in most cases you can apply for an online harassment injunction. It is possible, yet more difficult to obtain an emergency injunction to stop defamation only or where the element of harassment is minor. You can read more about defamation online rescue here.

Get in touch today for more information, advice and support.

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