Online content has the potential to reach a global audience and what is posted online can have far-reaching consequences for the reputation of a business. A person with an axe to grind can quickly reach a wide audience. Many businesses view harmful comments as one of the risks of an online presence. However, sometimes, conduct is so serious it cannot be ignored.
What can be done will depend on what has been posted. The most helpful laws are:
1. Defamation and malicious falsehood. If the comments made lower the business in the estimation of the public, were made within the last 12 months and are likely to cause harm then they may either be defamatory or maliciously false. This law will not protect a business if the comments are either true or honestly held opinion;
2. Harassment. If the person posting the content engages in a course of conduct which causes fear or distress then this could amount to harassment. In addition, if the employees of a business are harangued online because they work for that business then this may also amount to harassment both of the employees and of the business;
3. Confidentiality. If, for example, an employee or ex-employee posts sensitive information online then this might amount to an actionable breach of confidence;
4. Intellectual Property. Action might be taken if a post includes the copyright, trade mark or other intellectual property of a business.
Having identified the laws, then consider what will be the quickest and most cost-effective method of dealing with the situation. Will engaging with the troll simply inflame matters and lead to further attacks?
A way to nip things in the bud may be to go to the social media service provider. If content breaches their acceptable user policies they might remove it. However, this is not guaranteed because they depend on the posting information and free speech which means that they are likely to be reluctant to remove content just because you do not like it.
For more information on this or any other business law issue, contact Victoria Spellman on 01473 298181 or email [email protected]