Business Internet Defamation and Abuse
The internet creates endless opportunities for businesses around the world. You can advertise your products or services, connect with clients/customers online, and maintain a social media presence. With all the benefits the internet has to offer, it is also a place where your business can encounter defamation and abuse.
Unfortunately, many businesses must deal with negative comments and reviews online daily. However, when those comments/reviews are false, abusive, or defamatory and they hurt your business, you could potentially take legal action. If your business is dealing with online defamation or abuse, I can help. At Martinez Law Office, Inc., I serve businesses in Santa Ana, California, and throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County.
Online Defamation & Abuse Against Your Business
The online reputation of your business can have a significant impact on your profits and the success of your company as a whole. However, before you take legal action against the person/company spreading what you perceive to be defamatory or abusive statements about your business, you need to know what constitutes defamation and abuse under the law.
Online defamation refers to false and unprivileged statements of fact on the internet that harm your business’s reputation and are published due to either negligence or malice. Defamation takes two forms: written statements (libel) and spoken statements (slander). Example: A commenter on your business’s Facebook page claims that your products contain harmful materials when, in reality, they don’t.
Online abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the internet (often, on social media platforms) and takes the form of intimidating, harassing, threatening, or humiliating behavior. Example: A commenter is spreading comments with threats across all of your business’s social media accounts.
If your business’s reputation and/or profits have suffered because of internet defamation or abuse, you might want to consult with an experienced business law attorney to discuss your legal options.
Opinion vs. Defamation
When it comes to suing someone for defamation, it is important to understand the difference between an opinion and a defamatory statement. People have a constitutionally protected right to express their opinions about other people and businesses. Let’s review an example of an opinion and defamation:
“I think it is not worth buying your product because I’ve had a bad experience with it,” is an opinion. This comment establishes that the commenter has purchased your product and is expressing his/her opinion after the purchase.
“Their products are known to contain harmful materials that caused many people to die,” may be a defamatory statement unless the information is based on facts.
It is worth mentioning that just because a statement starts with “I think” does not necessarily make it an opinion. It could still be a defamatory statement if a reasonable person would think that the statement contains factual information when, in reality, it doesn’t.
Consumer Review Fairness Act
When exploring your legal options as a business that has been a victim of internet defamation or abuse, you need to consider the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA), which protects consumers’ ability to express honest opinions about the products or services a business sells or provides or the business’s conduct in general.
According to the website of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Act prohibits using contract provisions that:
Forbid or restrict a consumer’s ability to review the company’s products, services, or conduct in general;
Impose any penalties against someone who leaves a review or comment online; or
Require consumers to waive their intellectual property rights in the content of online reviews.
In general, the Act prohibits businesses from using any provisions that threaten or penalize consumers for sharing their honest opinions.
Your Legal Recourse When Online Defamation Occurs
When you think you are dealing with online defamation, your first response may be to file a lawsuit. While you do have a right to initiate litigation, you need to ensure that your case meets the required elements to prove defamation. Elements of defamation include:
The defendant is responsible for making the defamatory statement. Get some sort of evidence of the defamatory statement (video recording or a screenshot) to verify that the defendant is responsible for making the statement in case it is removed in the future.
The statement caused your business financial harm. Then, you need to establish a link between the defamatory statement and the negative financial consequences for your business.
The defendant knew or should have known their statement was false. If the defendant was expressing his/her honest opinion, you cannot sue them for defamation. You need to prove that the defendant knew or should have known that their statements were false.
Proving these three elements can be challenging without the assistance of a skilled business law attorney and, in many cases, testimony from expert witnesses.
Your Legal Recourse When Online Abuse Occurs
When your business becomes a victim of online abuse, you may be able to take legal action despite the protections granted to consumers by the Consumer Fairness Review Act. The Act contains some notable exceptions that allow businesses to protect themselves when certain elements are met. Under the Act, businesses can prohibit and remove reviews that contain:
Private or confidential information
The business’s trade secrets
Information unrelated to the business’s products/services
False or misleading information
Harassing, vulgar, harassing, abusing, sexually-explicit, libelous, or otherwise inappropriate language
It is a good idea to consult with an attorney before prohibiting or removing reviews/comments that seemingly contain any of the above-mentioned. An attorney will help you protect your business while avoiding the potential legal consequences of violating the CRFA.
Defend Your Reputation
At Martinez Law Office, Inc., I am dedicated to helping businesses throughout Southern California defend their reputation both online and offline. If your business is facing internet defamation or abuse, I can help you take the necessary action to remove the harmful material online and hold those responsible accountable for any damages caused. Contact my office to schedule a consultation and find the best solution for your situation.