This week we had to deal with a potential defamation scenario for a client because of some of their online activity.
In this case they had received a solicitors letter accusing them of defamation because of something that they had posted in a personal blog post. This whole area is very interesting because it deals with the most valuable of assets,”your reputation” and it also had the element of online, which makes it even more intriguing.
Your good reputation is one of the most precious assets that you have and it is in your interest to protect it at all costs. A good reputation is built up over time and it comes about from how you conduct all aspects of your business including the delivery of your products and services, how you treat your customers, your suppliers and your team and how you interact with the general public.
A good reputation will win you business, it will attract customers who will want to do business with you and it will give suppliers, banks, investors and landlords that necessary trust so they are happy to deal with you. If something does go wrong, as things often do then a good reputation will protect you because people will know that you are to be trusted and that whatever has happened you will sort it out.
A lot of the work we do with clients can be described as reputation management. We work hard to ensure that all the great things that our clients do are publicised and if potentially damaging incidents occur then we make sure that these situations are carefully managed so that any damage is limited.
A reputation often takes many years to build, but this can be destroyed easily in just moments by circumstances.
Because your reputation is such a precious asset it is only right that their is legal protection available to you, should anyone ever defame you.
We have found that defamation can be quite a misunderstood term as many feel that it applies whenever someone ‘says something bad about you‘ which is certainly not the case.
A few elements must normally be in place for something to be deemed as ‘defamation’:
Precise information – You must know exactly what has been said or publicised about you and be able to demonstrate this.
Clearly identified – The parties claiming to be defamed must be clearly identified in the offending publication.
False statements – It can only be deemed as defamation if what has been said is largely untrue. You might not like what is being said about you but if it is true this is not defamation!
Publication – It is only deemed as defamation if the publication of the remarks was relatively wide. Being overheard by a few people would not be enough.
The online environment makes this whole area even more complicated.
Does a post on a blog or on someone’s social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn carry as much weight as an article in a newspaper, some other publication or a comment on radio or TV? If I have 6,000 followers on twitter and someone else has 100 is a false statement by me a bigger misdemeanour?
It’s all a question of distribution and how many people may have seen or heard the false statements and then someone has the tricky job of assessing how much potential damage has been done by the false statement.
Another tricky dimension with the online environment is that if others make defamatory comments about someone on your ‘platform’ (blog/discussion board) then you could be liable as you did not remove the offending posts.
Defamation is a notoriously difficult area of law so even when all the elements are in place anyone considering a case in this area must have deep pockets and lots of time on their hands before considering legal action. (Check out some of the cases that have been tried in Ireland).
With the scenario that we had to deal with this week none of the critical elements were in place so our client had nothing to worry about and certainly nothing that would damage their own reputation – in fact it was quite the opposite.
In this case one of the people involved had written a blog post about the personal impact of an incident whereby they had been seriously wronged. They never once mentioned who the offending party were in their post and they were 100% truthful in what they had said.
Ironically the offending party ‘recognised’ themselves in the post and cried ‘foul’ and immediately ran to their solicitors who were happy to claim defamation, which it clearly was not. In this case the solicitor should have known better than to make such an incorrect and unprofessional accusation – is this a defamatory comment?
I’m always amused to see how it’s nearly always the ‘offenders’ who get most vigorous about protecting their rights!
Your good reputation is hard earned and it is a precious asset of huge value to your business. The best advice is to manage your reputation carefully so no one ever has a reason to say something bad about you.
If someone is making false, damaging accusations about you then you do have a legal mechanism but make sure that all the right elements are in place before going down this potentially costly and distracting road.
Your good reputation is everything.