The rise of social media in the past 10 or so years has given anyone with a complaint an unprecedented ability to publish their complaint or comments to the whole world. Sometimes the publication can be “harsh – but fair”. At other times, the publication can be vindictive, false, malicious, defamatory, or outright blackmail.
The laws in relation to defamation and injurious falsehood have not kept pace with developments in social media. A review of defamation laws across Australia is currently underway.
Even if you have a legal remedy available, the cost, time and effort to pursue a legal claim can be slow and prohibitive. Even if you can get an injunction or a judgment, it still might be too little too late, because the damage to your business and reputation may already have been done. That said, here are some steps you can take on the legal front, or at a practical level.
- Print a copy of the publication/s and keep a note of the dates when the publication remained on the internet and on which websites.
- Collate as many details about the publisher and the host website/s as you can.
- Put all papers into date order.
- Seek legal advice.
If you have to take legal action, note that it might be easier and more productive to take action against the company responsible for hosting the website on which the comment is published as compared to taking action against the disgruntled client who posted the comment.
If you cannot effectively use your legal rights or the legal system to stop a disgruntled client from bad-mouthing you online, then what can you do at a practical level?
- Be ready to provide a simple and clear explanation to anyone who mentions the negative post to you.
- Provide an online response (keep your response measured and simple and do not fall into a trap of defaming the complainant! Seek external advice as appropriate).
- Collate and promote good news (positive feedback) stories from happy clients to balance any negative ones. (Make sure the positive feedback is real and is not fake news…).
Submitted by MLSA Gold Sponsors FBR Law