Emerging Technology

The online defamation risk

SmartCompany /

What can you do if someone writes something about you or your company you don’t like on the internet? Rewrite negative with positive.

The best way to manage comments you dislike is to be vigilant and ready to counter-attack, says research director of consulting firm Ovum, Steve Hodgkinson. 

But, he warns, it is important to remember that once content is posted online it’s there for keeps. Unless you’ve posted the comment yourself, you typically can’t delete it, and it can be seen and added to by others with an ulterior interest.

Suing for defamation isn’t the best course of action, says Hodgkinson, at risk of coming across to hundreds of vocal bloggers around the world as a meddler interfering in the freedom of digital speech.

Rather, the best way to manage criticism online is to acknowledge it as valid feedback, and either offer a factual and constructive rebuttal or write what the company is doing to address the issues raised.

It pays to keep an eye on the dialogue that follows and manage it effectively, he says, by monitoring and responding to new comments and content, and shaping the message that you want people to hear.

If you keep addressing bad with good, by writing positive, constructive and true responses and posts, you’ll whitewash negative comments. If people search for your company or name, the newer content will rise to the top of the search hits, and the older, negative comments will sink below the surface.

Taking the offender to court is a different kettle of fish. According to the Communications Law Centre, it’s difficult to accuse someone of defamation online because of problems with pinpointing the identity of that person and knowing which jurisdiction they live in.

Social networking sites like Facebook may be a new frontier, due to the ease of finding out private details, but, as Hodgkinson says, success online is more about winning the respect of your audience, not challenging your critics to battle in the courts.

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