One anonymous post can put a brand's reputation in jeopardy. Here's how to fight internet defamation

by Whitney C. Gibson

A company can do everything right and have one anonymous post put its brand and reputation in jeopardy in a matter of minutes. According to a 2013 Deloitte survey of more than 300 senior executives, reputation tops the list of strategic risks for large businesses, surpassing economic and business model concerns.

With an increasing trend of online reputation attacks, many companies fear they cannot control public perception. Anyone with a desire to cause damage to a business, or its individuals, can easily (and anonymously) post false statements online.

For many businesses focused on having a positive online reputation, the first step is implementing a program to increase online reviews. Studies have shown people are more likely to post reviews after negative experiences. The impact will be greater on a business with fewer reviews. To overcome this sampling bias, companies should consider techniques that make reviews easy for customers to write. This should not include writing or paying for fake reviews. Case in point, in September New York's attorney general fined 19 companies more than $350,000 combined for fake reviews.

While it may seem too difficult and time consuming to search countless review websites, it is vital for CEOs to be proactive. The best way to do this is to monitor what is being said about the company online. Too often when companies ignore a defamatory review, the victim's options become limited. This can happen for two reasons. Either the Internet service provider can no longer access the relevant personal identifying information or the statute of limitations has expired.

If a false review or defamatory website pops up during monitoring, there are things that companies can do to remedy the situation. Solutions are fact-dependent and may require input from a multidisciplinary team of legal, cyber investigation and public relations professionals.

A cyber investigator can provide valuable information to help evaluate attacks, such as analyzing search engine strength of disparaging information, an attacker's sophistication and evidence of nefarious motives.

Legal teams can use this information to review removal options. This may include convincing a website host to voluntarily remove damaging content, such as for violation of a website's term of service. Although the Communications Decency Act shields websites from liability for statements made by third-party users, there are exceptions such as intellectual property claims and criminal law violations.

Lawyers can also convince authors of harmful content to remove the material, whether by a cease-and-desist letter and/or a formal complaint. Confidential negotiations or private discussions between the client and author have been effective. If the author is anonymous, attorneys can file a "John Doe" lawsuit and serve subpoenas to obtain identifying information. That can lead to an award of monetary damages for a client.

Every situation is unique. Ultimately, businesses must balance the potential harm versus the financial costs of fixing a reputation attack, not to mention the likelihood of success. One thing is certain; the price of ignoring online defamation can ultimately cost companies their reputation they have worked for years to build.

Whitney Gibson leads the Vorys Internet defamation group. Contact Whitney Gibson at 855.542.9192 or Read more about how to protect your company at and

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