Defendants may have several defenses at their disposal when faced with a defamation claim. Keep in mind that the definition of defamation is the assertion of a false statement of fact. Remembering this will help make sense of the following defenses.
Truth: If the statement concerning the plaintiff is true, then there is no falsity of the statement, and thus, no claim for libel or slander.
Opinion: A fundamental test to determine whether a statement is opinion or fact is whether the statement can be proved true or false in a court of law. If it cannot be proved true, then it is classified as opinion, and vice versa.
Absolute Privilege: Absolute privilege is the legal right to say or communicate a statement and will typically apply in legislative proceedings, and when giving evidence in court. A statement qualifies as absolutely privileged (even if defamatory) when it is necessary the statement be heard for social, political, or other important reasons. Absolute privilege even protects statements made with actual malice.
Suppressing the Bad Links
There are plenty of ways to bury the bad links, all of which are very manageable and very effective:
Setting up new social media profiles and making sure you're active on all of them.
Starting a company blog and posting excellent content regularly.
Publishing other types of media, like podcasts, images, and videos.
Optimizing content you already have on the web, like pages on your company site.
Leaving comments on other influential websites within your industry.
Become a thought leader by publishing expert advice in professional forums.
Create quality content and link from your content from a variety of authoritative websites that are topically relevant to web pages you're promoting.
Suppressing negative content is much like traditional SEO because the new content you create should be optimized for page rank. The more types of content you create, and the better the quality it is, the more likely it will be to rank above the negative content and make the negative item less noticeable.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with negative content about your business is to have a plan and be rational.
It can be easy to feel a rush of bad emotions when reading unpleasant reviews or other content. Instead, channel that energy into creating a strategy to make the content disappear. Do so by getting it removed or pushing it into the depths of search results.
Online Reputation Management Services to Remove and Suppress Negative Content
A number of internet privacy and reputation management companies now offer services to help people and businesses get things removed from the internet. Reputation.com, BrandYourSelf, and RemoveOnlineInformation.com for instance are a few top-rated online reputation management companies that provide services to protect people's privacy by monitoring and removing their information from people search and public database sites.
These companies also provide other "information removal" services to get things like defamatory content, bad reviews, court cases, negative press and a plethora of other stuff people don't want to show up in search results and are willing to pay to have it removed from the internet or hidden on web searches
Conditional Privilege: Conditional or “qualified” privilege may be used as a defense in situations where the statement was made in interest of furthering public interest – such as a journalist reporting on a certain matter or a university president writing an unfavorable letter of recommendation for a professor. Qualified privilege will not protect statements made with actual malice.
Consent: Plaintiffs who consent to having a defamatory statement made or published about them will be barred from bringing a defamation claim.
Fair Comment on a Matter of Public Interest: A more nuanced defense, fair comment on a matter of public interest will protect against a defamation claim where the defendant acted in good faith and honest belief when making a statement concerning public interest. It will be upheld if a court determines a reasonable person could honestly entertain such a thought.
Ohio Defamation Law Tip: Ohio and twelve other states recognize what are referred to as “food libel laws,” or food disparagement, and veggie libel laws. Food libel laws exist to provide producers, manufacturers, and processors of food easier remedy when their products have been falsely and maliciously attacked.
If you need to bury negative Google search results, in some cases, you can, get the negative search result taken down directly. Remember, this won’t work in every case, but in some it is step one to building an effective personal brand online.
There can be serious downsides to removal requests, so ask yourself these questions first:
Did you post the content? Does this negative search result stem from a blog post, tweet, status update, etc that you posted? Or does it come from an account that you control or have access to? If so, DELETE IT! You don’t need to bury Google results if you control them. Remove everything associated with this content that you possibly can. While there is still a chance that content could appear elsewhere (screenshots/cached searches, uploaded on other sites or profiles, etc), start by removing anything you can.
Did your friend post this content? Did your friend post something about you that could hurt your professional, academic or personal opportunities? If so, just ask them to take it down. As mentioned above, this could still resurface elsewhere, but this is a great first step. And try to push for full removal. For example, if your friend just de-tags you from something, your image is still associated with whatever is potentially damaging.
Did an acquaintance or someone you’re on good terms with post this? Feel free to reach out to this person as you would a friend. Just be polite and explain the situation logically. If someone isn’t focused on their own personal brand, (or has different boundaries than you do) they may be oblivious to how this content can negatively affect your personal reputation.
Would The “Right to be Forgotten” apply to this scenario? If you live in the E.U.or Argentina, check if this content falls within the standards of removal based on Google’s Right to be Forgotten.
Does this content fit Google’s standards for Takedown Requests? If you’re based in the US, look up Google’s legal causes for removal, and follow the steps necessary for submission.
While a “YES” to the questions above bodes well if you want to remove or bury negative Google results, keep in mind, you’re not necessarily in the clear. The search result is still archived. If you are lucky enough to have your content removed through emailing the webmaster directly, filling out a request form or through legal channels, it’s still likely that the negative search result will be archived somewhere and continue to show up when your name is searched.
There are a few more questions you still should ask yourself in your takedown request. Unfortunately, if you answer “YES” to any of the questions below – you should focus your energy elsewhere while attempting to improve your personal brand.
Is the owner of this content anonymous or spiteful? It would be great if you could just email someone and they would immediately remove this negative content, no questions asked. That’s obviously the ideal situation, and while it is possible to get content removed, there are some known risks and issues associated with taking this route. If you’re dealing with an anonymous or spiteful troll, then proceed with caution. Asking this kind of person to remove the offending may not go as planned. There is always the chance that the owner not only refuses to take the content down… but could make the situation worse for you.
Depending on the particular circumstances regarding your negative results, if you are dealing with somebody who has it out for you, there is always the chance that this person will choose to make it worse for you by becoming even more active and retaliate against you online. We have seen this happen many times, so it’s a smart idea to take a moment and analyze the situation. Sometimes it’s better left alone when it comes to contacting the site owner, and spending your time on other strategies to bury negative Google results.
Is the owner of this content a government website or news outlet? If you’re dealing with a government site, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get documents that are of public record removed. However, you should feel free to do a bit of digging on the government website (or by calling them) to see if there are any processes in place to maintain your privacy. And when it comes to dealing with a news outlet – if something is factually inaccurate, you can of course email them to write a retraction or correction. However, that may just give even more authority to a link or story that already looks damaging based on the title or URL.
High Risk of Online Libel
Which Parties Are at High Risk of Online Libel?
Most people completely discount online defamation and don’t think it could possibly affect or impact their lives. Although that may be a reasonable assumption to make, it’s important to remember that defamation does not discriminate, and the crux of the claim is that the statement is “untrue.” Therefore, even if you’re a model citizen, there’s still malicious persons and online trolls out there who are looking to push their own agendas by posting false content online.
Such reasons for posting defamatory statements online can include:
A heated argument or exchange online or in your daily life
A recent break-up with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse
A customer who feels that he or she did not get a fair shake
A business competitor
A jealous social competitor
Mistakes on a website that displays mugshots
Mistakes on a website naming sexual predators
Unfortunately the above covers only a few of the more common scenarios for internet defamation. The sad fact in today’s world is inaccurate and damaging posts can appear without warning from even a minor disagreement or awkward interaction.
Some high-risk professions include:
High-risk parties should look into purchasing defamation insurance, which could help lessen the overall financial impact a defamation claim has on them, especially if it tends to happen frequently.
To read up more on what defamation insurance is and the ins and outs of purchasing it, check out our comprehensive blog post titled “What is Defamation Insurance and Do I Need It?” here.
Defamation Removal Tip: A plaintiff will be deemed “libel proof,” when their reputation is in such poor standing in the community, that the disparaging and defamatory statement in question ultimately had no effect on them. Damages are an essential element of defamation claims, but when there is no damage, there is no claim.
Looking to Remove Online Defamation? Call the Libel Attorney’s at Webcide.com Today!
If you’ve been the target of online libel and want to have it removed permanently, you have options. Reach out to the highly experienced libel removal attorneys at Webcide.com now!
At Webcide.com, we have a near 100% removal success rate, and all for a flat, reasonable fee. Our goals are your goals, so let’s get started today.
Here’s what you can expect from our team:
Courtesy & Respect: Being the subject of a malicious online attack or post can have you feeling stressed and vulnerable. We know that, and have dealt with hundreds of cases. At Webcide.com, we will treat you with the utmost respect and courtesy. After all, your goals are our goals.
Websites Respond to Webcide.com: At Webcide.com, we know who to contact and how to contact them. We work closely with website administrators, third-party arbitration services, and content managers in order to explore options and secure a swift and permanent takedown.
We’re here to work WITH you: After commencing with the takedown process, we will stay in constant contact with you, ensuring you’re updated on your rights and on any necessary changes. We pride ourselves on our communication, and will never leave you in the dark wondering “what’s next?”
No one deserves to be defamed. At Webcide.com, we want to fight for your reputation.
Can Dead People Be Defamed?
Under common law and according to the definition of this defamation, deceased individuals cannot be defamed. Defamation is defined as an act or statement that damages one’s reputation. The dead do not have reputations to damage. The memory of a deceased person can be damaged, but this is not addressed under the tort of defamation.
Can Dead People be Defamed?
Survivors or descendants of the dead have no legal claim on behalf of a deceased relative’s good name, nor can they collect on behalf of their own interests relative to that person’s reputation. Likewise, the estate of a deceased person cannot be liable for the defamation of the dead. Survivors, relatives or friends of the deceased may, however, have a cause of action if the defamation reflects on their own reputations and they have, in fact, been defamed by the statements.
Generally, pending court action on a defamation claim does not survive the death of the plaintiff. However, this can vary based on a state’s survival statute. For example, the Ohio Revised Code 2311.21 states that actions for libel and slander will end upon the death of the plaintiff. This was upheld in Oakwood v. Makar, 11 Ohio pp.3d 46 (1983). However, in Georgia, common law has held that a pending libel action may be continued by survivors upon the death of the plaintiff. Johnson v. Bradstreet Co., 13 S.E. 250, 252 (Ga. 1891). You will need to check your state’s survival statute to understand your legal rights.
The attorneys at Webcide.com can help you determine if you or a loved one has a cause of action related to this tort.
Defamation of Corporations and Partnerships
A corporation is defamed if material is published about that corporation that would tend to negatively impact its standing in the business in which it operates. Although a company or corporation is not considered to have a reputation in the sense that an individual does, statements that would impact the public’s view of a company’s financial soundness or managerial integrity are generally considered defamatory to a company’s business reputation. A company or corporation may sue for defamation if such statements would tend to deter others from dealing with it.
A not-for-profit corporation may also sue for defamation if it relies on financial support from the public and published material would tend to harm that corporation’s ability to raise money from the general public.
Partnerships may be defamed in the same way as corporations—that is, published material that tends to negatively impact the partnership’s ability to do business. Just as a corporation, a partnership’s business reputation may be impacted by how the public views its financial soundness, managerial integrity and its ability to deliver goods and services.
Neither a partnership nor a corporation is necessarily defamed by statements directed against the individual partners or individual officers or stockholders.
Defamatory statements may harm the individuals’ reputations and have no impact on the business, or they may harm the business’ reputation and have no impact on the individuals. Such defamatory statements may lead to separate causes of actions for the business and the individuals. These issues are addressed in several court decisions, including People’s United States Bank v. Goodwin, 167 Mo. App. 211, 149 S.W. 1148 (1912); Brayton v. Cleveland Special Police Co., 63 Ohio St. 83, 57 N.E. 1085 (1900).
Elements of a defamation claim
For a corporation or a partnership to bring a claim of defamation, the plaintiff must meet the same elements as are required in an individual defamation claim. These are:
The statement was published by the defendant, meaning it was spoken or distributed to at least one other person other than the plaintiff;
The statement provides enough information that the plaintiff is identifiable;
The statement harmed the plaintiff’s reputation in some way—in this case, the business reputation of the corporation or partnership.
Defenses of a defamation claim also are similar to those relative to an individual defamation claim. Truth is always an absolute defense, and even if a corporation or partnership suffers harm, if the statements are true, it may not collect damages.
If statements are false, but are expressed as an opinion, a defendant may have a defense. However, just as in an individual defamation claim, how the statements are presented and whether they would be understood to be an opinion by a reasonable person will be taken into consideration when determining if the statements are defamatory.
Corporations may sue for defamation if they can show that the published material has caused them or is likely to cause them financial loss. If the required elements exist, a corporate plaintiff may recover presumed damages. This means that harm is presumed—no proof is required—in the matter, and a fact finder may assess an amount he or she deems is appropriate. Brown & William Tobacco Corp. v. Jacobson, 827 F.2d 1119, 1139 (7th Cir. 1987); Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U.S. 749 (1985).
Corporations and partnerships may also pursue special damages in a defamation cause of action. In such a case, the corporation must show evidence of financial loss that stems directly from reputational injury that was caused by the defamatory material. These losses could include a decline in the value of the company’s stock.
The defamation tort as it applies to corporations and partnerships is complex and can ultimately involve multiple causes of action. The experienced attorneys at Webcide.com can help you determine how these laws apply to your case.
Is Defamation of a Company on the Internet Legal?
The Internet and the forms of electronic publishing and communication it facilitates have provided an economic boon to many businesses. Whereas decades ago the forms of marketing available were broad based and didn’t allow fine targeting of markets, this changed with the Internet revolution. Today, companies and businesses can market broadly on general interest sites or extremely narrowly to focused niches on social media sites or based on user profiles on search engines like Google. Likewise, individuals the Internet has revolutionized communication for individuals by providing a global potential audience for all who participates.
However, despite the economic and communication benefits typically provided by the Internet, the web and its social media sites can also act as something of a double-edged sword. While businesses and marketers can spread their message easily, so can customers who have had a bad experience, fanboys and fangirls who are invested in a rival company’s ecosystem, and others who are simply looking to flame and attack the hard work you have invested into your product and services. Likewise, malicious individuals can use social media websites and platforms to slander and attack an individual for revenge or other reasons.
Thus, individuals and organizations ranging from small businesses to large corporations often want to know the actions they can take to protect themselves or their brand against baseless defamation. Furthermore, in instances where a false and defamatory review may have resulted in lost sales and decreased revenue, they may want to know whether the site and the poster can be held accountable for their actions.
The Internet Defamation Lawyers of Webcide.com can work to remove the false, malicious, or vindictive review. Furthermore, we may be able to work to hold the individual user, and in some cases, the site accountable.
Like in the Real World, Defamation Can Lead to Damages & Civil Liability
In our culture the First Amendment holds a special and elevated place. As such, many people frequently argue that the First Amendment entitles them to say anything they want, how they want, and when they want regardless of the consequences. However, the courts have long-held that the First Amendment is subject to certain limits reflected in the famous aphorism, “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” While this illustrates one limit on free speech, it does miss the point in some ways in that the text of the First Amendment reads:
Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [emphasis added]
Thus, the First Amendment applies principally to government restraints on speech. While initially applying to only the federal government, the amendment was later incorporated through the 14th Amendment to also apply to the states. Thus, when people assert their First Amendment right to speak falsehoods publicly, they largely miss the point of the protections that are provided. Furthermore, they miss the court’s longstanding willingness to impose civil liability that has always applied to forms of defamatory speech like libel and slander.