There are lots of great tips out there for dealing with a crisis. One of the nicest, most succinct ones we’ve seen comes courtesy of Melissa Agnes and addresses the Top Ten Crisis Management Take-Aways from 2013. So, the team at Capstone decided our Christmas gift to you is the Ten Days of Crisis Management – You won’t find any maids a milking here, but you will find the Capstone team’s deeper dives on Melissa’s list. To read Melissa’s original list, click here.
# 4. “Internet defamation is a serious issue and there are more and more options available to help organizations protect themselves, both legally and reputationally.” – Melissa Agnes
If you do an online search for “Internet defamation,” your first results will be mostly promoted ads for Internet defamation remediation services. Law firms, advocacy groups, and branding firms are vying for the expanding market of people and organizations that have been disparaged online, and with good reason. Although no solid numbers exist around this, the interactive nature of almost all digital content has led to an explosion of online libel.
Online forums and Twitter feeds are often rife with negative comments and claims, but what separates a sarcastic or even mean-spirited tweet from true online libel? Well, first, libel is a kind of defamation and is the written form of slander. Second, for a statement to be considered libel it has to meet a few conditions, as outlined by Traverse Legal. Briefly, those conditions are:
— Proof is that the statement constitutes a false statement of fact, which is different than an opinion.
— The false statement of fact must harm yours or your company’s reputation.
— The false statement of fact causing harm must be made without adequate due diligence or research into the truthfulness of the statement.
— If the person who is the subject of the false statement of fact is a celebrity or public official, the plaintiff must also prove “malice.”
If a something exists that contains those elements, you of course have the option to pursue the matter legally.
You’ll have to contact an attorney as quickly as possible, as you may run into problems with the statute of limitations to say nothing of the possibility of lost profit and business from negative online perceptions
But a critical component of your strategy – and what you’ll want to pursue immediately, regardless of your legal course of action – is what you’ll do to rebuild your online reputation. Something that you’ll have to consider whether you want to call a lawyer or not.
As with all crisis communications and issue management, you’re always better off if you have a good foundation. Many times a libelous comment can be buried by third party support from your followers, and smart search engine optimization can help you defeat the attack to your brand’s online position. SEO is especially useful because in order to counter the positive content you put out, the offender will have to create just as much negative commentary, a tiresome task.
You should also immediately begin a fact-based campaign to defend your organization. Tactically, this can be done in many ways but the strategic goal is for you to appear transparent and open, without engaging with the negative post and whoever is behind it. Publish as much fact-based content as you can, establish your version of events and make sure people can find it.
A great, and legalese-free, source of some FAQs on online libel and defamation can be found at Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.