Someone Slandered My Company!

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It was circa 2004. My friend Billy found me on Facebook by searching for my university email address and promptly started to write false things about me on one of my recent photos, as a joke. Nobody takes social media comments seriously, he must have thought. Some of the commentary happens to be damaging, though. Like, I had disappeared into a bedroom with a lady who was not my girlfriend last night? What? This might cost me my job with the girlfriend's dad's company. It's not true! What's wrong with you, Billy?! Lucky for me, it was before I really had the propensity to go viral. If this libel had shown up in the comments of a popular post today, it could damage my reputation far and wide. 

Case in point, a number of observers have noticed a jump in defamation lawsuits that was brought about by social media. Billy's comments were enough to justify taking legal action if he had not apologized right underneath his defamatory comments. Today, similar comments from truly hostile competitors could easily bring your brand to its knees. 

Everyday social media users, media companies and businesses face the same risks major media companies always have. "You shouldn't be doing or saying things that you wouldn't say, that you wouldn't want printed on the front page of a major daily newspaper, says RMIT lecturer Dr. Mark Williams. Whatever you say could remain online forever, even if you delete the original.

But what happens when you're on the receiving end of a defamatory comment? Defamation is untruthful commentary about a person or business. Written defamation is called libel and verbal (spoken) defamation is called slander. According to HG.org, there are three conditions that must be met before the offender can be taken to court.

1. It must be a lie.

The US constitution gives us the right to free speech. We are allowed to say anything we want but if something we say happens to be untruthful, we might face legal action. In other words, there is a limit to free speech. Only make negative comments about a person or business if they are actually true. You can only win a court case if the comments about you are true, likewise.

2. It must cause real harm.

If a comment simply bruises your ego, you aren't really harmed. If it has a negative impact on your income; however, it's something that can be used in court. If it caused your entire community to disown you, which brought about a spell of depression, that can be considered real harm and can be brought to court. But if you just want to get back at Billy for calling you a clown, because it would feel good, court will probably be a waste of time.

3. You must have evidence.

As with any legal case, if there's no evidence, it didn't happen. A person is always innocent until proven guilty. You need witnesses or other proof that the person you accuse actually defamed you or your business. When the instance occurred online, it's best to get as much evidence as you can as soon as you can. Take screenshots and record videos immediately, long before the offender is notified that he will be taken to court. But remember, you have to meet the conditions above or they won't be useful.

If someone has slandered me, meeting all the above conditions, I need to keep my cool. Running around screaming "he slandered my company!" isn't going to help me recover. A good lawyer will help me resolve the problem. I might also call a reputation management specialist. No matter how bad the defamation was, I can arrange my online information to show people that I'm better than they may think. Reviews and testimonials are a few useful tools for building trust, but make sure it's all real. Fabricated testimonials and artificially high review scores could actually hurt you in your defamation lawsuit if a lawyer tries to prove you're a bad guy.

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David Kalla