- Defining Online Defamation
- 14 Examples of Online Defamation
- Florida Laws
- Social Media Defamation
- Online Revenge Porn
- How Does Google Help
A general definition of online defamation (a/k/a internet defamation) is the act of publishing false statements on the internet that damage another person’s individual or business reputation. Unfortunately, this type of malicious behavior happens all too often in today’s digital age. This article will provide an overview of online defamation, explain its effects, and discuss ways to avoid becoming a victim.
Defamation can come in many forms – written, spoken, or even visual. Online defamation occurs when the offending statement is published on the internet via websites, blogs, social media platforms, online reviews and more. Unfortunately, these types of defamatory statements are very easy to make and hard to undo.
One of the main legal issues which arise in some online defamation claims (i.e. public figures) is that it can be difficult to prove that a false statement was made with malice. For these victims, it is not enough to merely show the comments were inaccurate; instead, the plaintiff must prove that they were aware they were making a false statement or were reckless in terms of verifying the accuracy of their statement. See Axelrod v. Califano – 357 So.2d 1048.
Additionally, it is important to bear in mind that pure opinions are not considered defamation. See Blake v. Giustibelli – 182 So.3d 881.
An expansive definition of online defamation is a type of digital abuse whereby false and often time malicious comments, posts, reviews and images are published online about an individual, business or organization. It is worth noting here that online defamation can occur even within an organization’s intranet, which is outside of the general public’s view.
These publications can not only result in emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment but they can also lead to financial losses due to loss of job advancement opportunities, the loss of existing business deals, and a decrease in future customers/clients/deals too.
Here are 14 common examples of online defamation:
- Falsely claiming that a person is a criminal or accusing a person of being involved in illegal activity or saying a person has been convicted of a crime.
- Spreading false rumors about someone’s personal life, such as infidelity, drug use, or other scandalous or immoral behaviors.
- Publishing doctored images or videos to make it appear that someone has said something they never actually did in real life.
- Producing fake news materials containing false facts meant to damage someone’s reputation
- Posting false accusations about an individual’s professional competence or personal behavior on social media.
- Intentionally misrepresenting a product or service used by a bad actor in order to harm the competition’s reputation
- Reviewing a product/service on a website without ever actually using it and giving it a low rating
- Misrepresenting an individual’s achievements, qualifications, history or character
- Creating online polls intended to slander another
- Misrepresenting quotes attributed to an individual
- Anonymous publishing of malicious content on the internet
- Setting up a website that contains unflattering or untrue and malicious information about an individual.
- Posting defamatory content using bots and scripts designed for repetitive postings across multiple platforms.
- Encouraging others to join in the defamation of another either through comments on posts or through private messages encouraging the spread of false information online.
According to Florida law, in order to maintain an action for defamation, a victim of an online attack must show: (1) the defendant made a false statement; (2) the statement was published, meaning that a third party saw, read or heard it; (3) the statement harmed the plaintiff (actual damages); (4) the defendant acted with malice or negligence; and (5) the statement was defamatory. See: Nitv, L.L.C. v. Baker – 61 So. 3d 1249 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011).
Additionally, Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute protects individuals from retaliatory lawsuits in response to exercising their right of free speech in connection with a public issue or their rights to peacefully assemble, instruct representatives, and petition for redress of grievances before the various governmental entities of this state as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and s. 5, Art. I of the State Constitution.
Quick Tip: As a matter of law, a statement is a pure opinion (not actionable) when it is based on facts that are otherwise known or available to the reader or listener. Meaning, the reader or listener knows the true facts. Fidelity v. Firstate – 74 So.3d 506.
Online reviews can be a powerful tool for businesses looking to attract new customers and build their reputation. However, online reviews can also be used as a form of online defamation – one that can have serious repercussions for businesses if left unaddressed.
False reviews are one of the most common forms of online defamation when it comes to businesses. These are usually written by disgruntled customers or competitors in an attempt to defame and damage both the business’s reputation and its sales. False reviews typically contain maliciously false information such as untrue claims of poor service, low-quality products, or unethical behavior.
The effects of such attacks cannot be ignored; they often lead to significant reputational damage and direct financial losses in the form of lost sales opportunities or even lawsuits stemming from libelous statements. For this reason, it is essential that businesses monitor their online presence for any signs of making negative comments about them which could potentially constitute online defamation.
One way to do this is by continually monitoring consumer feedback platforms like review sites so that any offensive material can be swiftly dealt with. One way to monitor for defamatory reviews is by setting a “Google Alert” for that business name and telephone number.
Social media posts can be an effective way of connecting with friends, family, customers, colleagues, and promoting content and building a positive online reputation. Unfortunately, they can also be used as a tool to abuse and damage people and businesses if false information is shared.
Online defamation on social media can take many forms, for individuals it can include falsely claiming that a person is a criminal or saying a person has been convicted of a crime and spreading false rumors about someone’s personal life, such as infidelity or drug use. For business, it can include false claims of poor service or products, misleading reviews or ratings, offensive comments about the business or its owners, or even malicious smears about the company’s ethical practices. Once posted, these statements are often spread quickly due to the nature of social media – further exacerbating the damage done to a business’s reputation.
To learn steps on how you can have defamatory posts can be removed see our online defamation FAQs.
The impact that such attacks can have on businesses cannot be overstated; it not only causes reputational harm but can also lead to lost opportunities and serious financial losses. Victims of these attacks must therefore be willing and able to take action in order to protect their standing against any damaging claims made against them online.
For those wishing to take legal action against someone who has defamed them online, it is important to begin by examining all available evidence. This includes collecting screenshots, URLs of where the offending statements appear, and other relevant information which could be used as evidence in support of a claim. Additionally, seeking out legal counsel to evaluate any available options would also be beneficial before making any decisions on whether or not to pursue a claim.
Furthermore, there are certain websites dedicated to helping victims of online defamation fight back against their attackers by providing services like scanning social media platforms for illegal behavior. If the offensive materials are showing up in the search engines then there are services that push down the offending search results.
To learn more, read our social media defamation page.
Online revenge porn is an increasingly common form of digital abuse whereby explicit or humiliating images and videos are shared without the victim’s consent, typically as a way of seeking revenge on another person. This online abuse can be carried out in various ways such as posting content on social media platforms, sending unsolicited emails or text messages to third parties, selling the material to different websites, or sharing it in chat rooms or through other online channels.
The effects of online revenge porn can have serious implications for victims; not only does this kind of abusive behavior violate their privacy and threaten their safety but it can also lead to significant mental health issues such as depression and anxiety due to the shame associated with having intimate images shared without one’s permission.
Victims not only have to deal with the distress, embarrassment and potential legal repercussions which come with having private material shared online but they may also find that their attempts at getting the material removed from public view are unsuccessful due to its pervasiveness across multiple websites.
Thankfully, however, there are steps that victims can take in order to protect themselves from further exploitation and address any existing problems created by rogue individuals seeking revenge through digital means. For one, they can reach out to authorities who may be able to help them resolve the situation – such as filing a police report if necessary – while also accessing different services provided by specialist support groups that provide advice and guidance on how best to confront cyber-abuse-related issues head-on.
To learn about Florida’s revenge porn statute, including the financial penalties a victim can receive see our cybersexual harassment article.
The most common effect of online defamation is reputational damage for the person being attacked. Not only can this harm their public image but it may also have serious consequences on their employment prospects and social life as well. In some cases, victims have experienced depression and anxiety due to the mental distress they endure from being attacked online on a regular basis.
Some individuals can recover compensation for the harm they have suffered and they can sometimes force the removal of the offending content through injunctive relief. For businesses, they can recover lost profits including future profits as well as injunctive relief.
To learn more about the damages you can recover for defamation, see our defamation lawsuits article.
Google can be a useful tool for those dealing with online defamation. It has policies that can help to quickly identify and remove false or offensive material from public view, protecting victims from further harm.
For example, if you find content on Google’s services that violates Google’s policies or applicable laws Google provides a page called “Report Content on Google.” The page reads, in part:
You can also visit http://support.google.com for non-legal issues that concern Google’s Terms of Service or content and product policies.
Legal standards vary greatly by country/region. Content that violates a specific law in one country/region may be legal in others. Typically, we remove or restrict access to the content only in the country/region where it is deemed to be illegal. When content is found to violate Google’s content or product policies or Terms of Service, however, we typically remove or restrict access globally.
You may report the same content through both legal and content/product policy reporting paths, but you must file each report separately. Note that reporting content through a content/product policy path does not substitute for reporting it through a legal path and does not serve as legal notice.
What Can a victim due to protect their rights?
There are steps that can be taken to protect oneself against online defamation. These include communicating with those who are spreading false information about you; reporting any suspect content to website webmasters; and seeking legal counsel if necessary.
Furthermore, there are certain websites dedicated to helping victims of online defamation fight back against their attackers. Some websites provide services like scanning social media platforms for offending materials and taking steps on behalf of victims when necessary. Other steps include sending a cease-and-desist letter which can be used to formally notify parties involved in an online attack that further communications will result in legal action being taken against them.
While one cannot always prevent themselves from being subjected to online defamation, there are steps that can be taken to reduce its potential harm and if none of these work then seeking legal counsel may be your only available option against attacks on your character or reputation.
To learn steps a victim can take to have online defamation removed see our Online Defamation FAQs.
Do You Have a Question? Contact Us Today.
As a Board-Certified Civil Trial Expert for over 40 years, Alan Sackrin has extensive experience dealing with online defamation claims. He offers a free initial consultation (over the phone or in-person) to answer your questions. When you’re ready to speak with an experienced defamation lawyer about your case, contact Alan today or give him a call at 945-458-8655.
To learn more about Alan and his qualifications, see his about me page.