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Online Defamation FAQs

Are you concerned about defamation and what it could mean for your online reputation? If so, you’re not alone. Every day, people ask questions related to online defamation in hopes of learning their rights and protecting their reputation from false or derogatory information. Here we will address some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding this issue – including, what you have to prove to win a case, how to remove defamatory posts, opinions, and other related legal issues.

How do I stop Facebook defamation?

If you are being defamed on Facebook, here are a few steps that you can take to stop it from occurring: 1) contact the person posting the content and nicely ask them to remove or retract it; 2)  report the content to Facebook as violating their terms of service; 3) hire a reputation management service to address any negative content posted about you online; 4) send a cease-and-desist letter or demand letter stating that they are defaming you online and must stop immediately, or they will face legal action if they don’t comply; 5) reach out for help from organizations such as cyberbullying helplines and counseling services who can assist with taking down the content; and 6) initiate legal action depending on the severity of the defamatory statement.

How can I get a website to remove a defamatory post or comment?

If you find a defamatory post or comment about you on a website, the most effective way to get it removed is to contact the website in question directly and make a formal request. Make sure to provide detailed evidence as to why the statement is false or inaccurate and why it should be removed. Additionally, if you can provide proof that the statement has caused harm to your reputation, this may help strengthen your case. You should also review the website’s terms of service to see if the comment or post violates those terms. Additionally, if the website is not a mainstream website, you may ask if you can buy their copyright rights to the post or comment.

Read: Florida Defamation of Character Claims

What steps can I take if I am the victim of revenge porn?

If you are the victim of revenge porn in Florida, there are a number of steps you can take to try and protect yourself and get the content removed from the internet.  First, you should record the evidence. You should take screenshots or photos of the content being shared and any URLs associated with it. Also, record when and where the content first appeared online and the names of any people who saw the content. Second, you should immediately report the content to the platform where it was posted as most social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, and Snapchat, have measures in place (see their Terms of Service) to investigate such complaints and remove the offending material. Third, consider filing a police report as this may help with any future legal proceedings. Fourth, you should contact reach out for guidance from professional support groups including the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), whose mission is to “combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties.”  Additionally, you can:

  • Use Google’s page dedicated to helping victims remove non-consensual, explicit or intimate personal images from Google’s search results. Microsoft also offers a non-consensual pornography reporting webpage which you can use to get revenge porn removed from Bing search results.
  • Submit a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This approach uses Federal copyright law to allow a revenge porn victim to assert their image or photo is protected content and that is being used without the victim’s authority or consent. This page is an excellent resource for this procedure and it includes a sample takedown letter. Note: This procedure is a quick fix but not a permanent fix because the offending poster can and likely will post the photo or image elsewhere leaving a victim to chase the image around the internet.
  • File a complaint with the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the authority to take legal action against entities that have violated the law by refusing to comply with requests to remove an image.

What do I need to prove in Florida to win a defamation lawsuit?

To win a Florida defamation lawsuit, generally speaking, a victim has to prove the defendant published a false statement, about the plaintiff, to a third party, and the falsity of the statement caused injury to the plaintiff.

Some victims, including public figures, they must be able to prove that the person accused of defamation acted with actual malice. Malice is defined as the intent to harm or disregard for the truth. It is not enough to simply show that the statement was false; you must also prove that it was made with malicious intent. In some cases, circumstantial evidence can be used to demonstrate that an individual had malicious intent. However, for there to be actual malice in the making of allegedly defamatory statements, there must be knowledge on part of the person uttering a statement of the statement’s falsity or reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.

What is a cease-and-desist letter?

A cease-and-desist letter is a letter sent to the person defaming you, which demands that the offending party stop their harmful behavior or face legal action. Cease and desist letters are sometimes the first step taken when someone has engaged in unlawful conduct, such as making defamatory statements about another person. Often, the letter is enough to get the recipient to stop engaging in this behavior or remove the content from the internet.

Can I sue a business for Defamation?

Yes, it is possible to sue a business for defamation. However, such claims can be complicated depending on who the defendant is in the case. Also, it’s important to remember that opinions are generally protected by the First Amendment. Additionally, certain businesses have protections from liability (e.g., protecting journalists and newspapers from libel suits). Therefore, it can be difficult to successfully sue a business for defamation unless there is clear evidence of erroneous facts or malicious intent and, for example, a newspaper fails to follow Florida law (Chapter 770) when asked to retract the defamatory content.

Also, in order to successfully pursue a defamation case against a business, you must be able to prove actual harm or economic loss as a result of the alleged defamation. You must also demonstrate that the offending statement was made with knowledge of its falseness or reckless disregard for its truth.

Read: Florida Defamation of Character Lawsuits

Is an opinion considered defamation?

An opinion is not defamation because it cannot be proven false. Statements of opinion are protected under freedom of speech (First Amendment), as opinions are subjective and based on personal beliefs. As long as the statement does not contain factual assertions that can be proven false (i.e., a mixed opinion), or is made with malicious intent, it is not considered defamatory. Therefore, simply expressing an opinion about a person or an event is not considered defamatory and should not result in legal liability.

Are there any defenses against a claim of defamation?

Yes, there are several defenses that can be used to protect against a claim of defamation. These include truth, privilege, opinion, and the statements made were made with good motives, including others routed in common and statutory law. For a more complete list of defenses see our article: Defamation Defenses to Libel and Slander Lawsuits

How are damages determined in a defamation case?

In a defamation case, damages are typically determined by the type of harm that was caused. Common forms of harm include emotional distress (these are difficult claims to when – they require evidence from health care professionals), loss of business or employment opportunities, damage to reputation, and financial losses. Generally speaking, a plaintiff may be entitled to compensatory damages and, in some very limited circumstances, punitive damages (if the defendant acted with malice or reckless disregard for the truth).

Is it possible to file a defamation lawsuit against an unknown (anonymous) person for an online post, tweet or comment?

Yes, it is possible to file a defamation lawsuit against an unknown person or someone trying to remain anonymous. This is commonly referred to as a “John Doe” lawsuit, which allows a plaintiff to name the defendant only generally and take the necessary steps to identify them later on. This can be done by serving subpoenas for records or submitting requests for information from ISPs (like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T), companies issuing email addresses, and on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook (Meta), and Google. When dealing with ISPs you should be aware of the Federal Cable Communications Policy Act (47 USC 551) and having to file a motion to subpoena information from the ISP.

How do I get records from Google for my defamation lawsuit?

You do so by serving a subpoena on google. Based upon Google’s published terms of use, Google will recognize a subpoena that was served upon the appropriate office of Google LLC’s registered service agent, Corporation Service Company (or “CSC”), in the plaintiff’s home state. According to Google:

If you would like to serve Google LLC with civil requests through CSC outside of California, you may be able to find other addresses for CSC by searching for Google LLC on the website of the Secretary of State for other states (“Other Google Notice Addresses”).

As a redundancy, you can also affect service on Google’s CSC agent in Sacramento by domesticating your subpoena in California. In that case, you will need to complete the appropriate mandatory California subpoena form, either SUBP-035, SUBP-040, SUBP-045 or SUBP-050.

What is the Federal Cable Communications Policy Act?

The Cable Communications Policy Act is a federal law that guarantees the privacy of customers’ personally identifiable information from cable providers by preventing unauthorized access or disclosure of customer data. This law prohibits cable operators from disclosing certain information such as names, addresses, telephone numbers, and viewing or subscription information without first obtaining consent from the customer. Furthermore, it prohibits cable companies from using customers’ personal data for marketing purposes unless expressly requested by the customer. The Cable Communications Policy Act ensures that customers are aware of their rights regarding the privacy of their data so they can enjoy their entertainment services worry-free and in full confidence of their privacy is being respected and maintained.


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