In last week’s post, we addressed several legal issues exclusive to the use of social media that businesses may face as Facebook, Twitter and other platforms continue to grow in popularity—but arguably none of those are as pervasive as the issue of libel.
Libel in Social Media
For those unfamiliar with the term, libel is defined as a published, untrue statement made to damage the reputation of another party. Most commonly associated with the field of journalism, issues of libel have made their way onto the social media scene as the industry has grown. As noted in the UK’s Independent, the number of defamation actions brought over derogatory posts on social media has increased by more than 300 percent in 2014.
The biggest obstacle with libel is proving intent when it comes to cases involving social media. Because of the nature of social media and the Internet as a whole, most posts can simply be covered by the realm of opinion. Even though social media is easily accessible to the public, the nature of the Internet can allow for relative anonymity when it comes to posting things online, making it hard to identify just who said what.
Because of the uncertainties involved with actually proving libelous intent on social media, it can be hard to take legal action. However, there are a few measures that a company can take to protect itself. Depending upon the nature of the statements, the best course of action may be to respond directly to the comments. . As with any public statement, it is important to use your best judgement when choosing to respond. For example, should a comment be about an issue with your product or a misperception about the company and its services, there lies an opportunity to respond in a tactful, informative manner. Should the comment threaten to defame your company or its character, it may be more appropriate to ignore the comment or take the conversation offline. In such cases, never delete a post; if you wish it to be removed from your page, “hide” it instead, should you ever need to have a record of interactions with them in the event of a libel case. When properly addressed, the issue with the disgruntled individual can lead to a retraction of the original statements and repair a damaged company-consumer relationship.
Depending upon the size and profile of the company, the smartest thing to do may be employing a company to monitor online presence full time, ensuring immediate handling of the issue. Should a libelous situation ever threaten your company and its business, don’t hesitate to consult with your attorney. It’s best to get ahead of these matters as soon as possible, before they get out of hand.