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Poll: Majority wants repercussions for online defamation

According to a 2013 poll by Cayman Compass, 54 percent of respondents believe that social media and web forum postings should be held to the same libel standards as traditional media outlets.

According to a 2013 poll by Cayman Compass, 54 percent of respondents believe that social media and web forum postings should be held to the same libel standards as traditional media outlets.
Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images

“It should be much easier to take action or have a press complaints body to complain to against some of the libelous and slanderous comments posted on some of these forums, including the media,” said one respondent. “Your newspaper used to do a good job of moderating such comments, but of late it has gone the route of its competitors.”

Users who unfairly defame individuals or businesses on the Internet could face expensive legal repercussions. That may include publishing blatant lies about a person or organization through your Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The perceived anonymity of the internet has historically motivated competitors to spread false rumors against rivals or to harass others. However, libelous accusations can now be easily tracked down and legal action can be taken in court.

Last year, a Canadian bishop filed a lawsuit against a blogger who published injurious comments to his “credit, character, and reputation”. In April, a Texas couple was awarded over $13 million in a defamation case they made against an individual who harassed them online through multiple false accusations on web forums.

While the U.S. constitution protects the right to free speech (which covers opinions), blatant lies that result in damages are not. Through the use of technology, the nation’s court system can now trace offending parties by tracking their IP addresses which each of which is tied to a specific computer.

What makes the Internet unique is its ability to spread information seemingly at the speed of light. Additionally, software technology can disguise the source of the information however accurate or inaccurate.

Information Effects

Individuals and companies are not immune to anonymous defamation. Motivated aggressors can use software to hide their digital footprints and thus continue to spread false information on their targets. Misleading information and blatant lies that go viral can result in gains or losses for investors.

In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings, hackers broke into the Associated Press’ Twitter account and posted a fake news story that President Barack Obama had been injured due to explosions in the White House. Though the false rumor was deleted within minutes of its posting, the stock market momentarily lost value which wiped out billions of dollars in equity value for traders speculators, and investors.

Authorities have not been able to identify the perpetrators, which lead security experts to believe that similar stunts could be repeated in the future to wreak havoc in the news and financial industries.

Monetizing From Reputation

For businesses, reputation is directly tied to its ability to monetize from its product and service offerings, according to Brad Merkel of reputation management firm ReviewBoost. According to Merkel, “80 percent of customers read reviews before making a buying decision”. He also says that companies with a good reputation can improve their conversions by up to 300 percent.

While monitoring one’s reputation can be a reactive approach (such as searching for terms through Google), some celebrities and businesses are beginning to take a proactive approach to improving their brand by having favorable content published on the Internet.

“You can’t afford to underestimate the importance of your online character. Employers are now routinely performing online searches on prospective employees. This goes far beyond the realm of a resume,” said Gary Truitt, CEO of Fat Brain Interactive.

On Wednesday, the company announced that it will begin to work with clients to improve their Internet footprint and ensure that they have a pristine record. However, some skeptics argue that such an approach could diverge from valid defense against libel to the dissemination of overly optimistic embellishments of people and businesses.

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