Connectivity and information maybe internet’s mantra but the same can become a disadvantage when used for nefarious purposes. Socials networks, online news sites, commentaries and reviews become tools in the hands of people willing to spread misinformation and they become handier with the cloak of invisibility that the net supposedly provides.
Reputations are made and lost online in a jiffy. Defamatory information and misleading facts can damage personal and professional lives, cost a business and even start riots as has been proved time and again. Cyberbullying has led to suicides of teens, the US elections are alleged to have been influenced by internet trolling.
The power that an online review and comment can have has given rise to professional entities that can garner you likes, dislikes, reviews, and commentators at nominal costs. Online content is moderated to a large extent for pornographic and potentially harmful content, but it is virtually impossible to filter out defamatory content.
Defamation is generally defined as a false, published statement that is injurious to the plaintiff’s reputation. Doing it online is also considered as published as it is seen by people.
So what are the options available if one is defamed? The first line of defense is to go to the Internet Service Provider or the website hosting the inflammatory content and request to remove the defamatory online content.
Legal recourse in such cases is very difficult as laws governing the internet are still ambiguous and unclear. In most countries, the service providers and website hosts are not liable for the information provided on their sites.
In the United States, the Communications Decency Act protects ISPs and website hosts from defamation claims. There is a “right to be forgotten” option that allows you to request search engines such as Google to remove entries pertaining to you, but again there are limitations to what can be achieved with it. The “right to protection laws in the digital world” are still being debated in the courts.
Generally, a simple cease and desist order is enough for websites or accused to comply.
Search engine platforms and social media sites have their own mechanisms to restrict inflammatory and defamatory content. Facebook recently increased its hires to check abusive content and Google has elaborate algorithms in place to combat fraudulent content and has strict filters for hosting content. Under the “legal removal request” option, Google has examined over 2 million links since 2014 and 43% of the requests have been removed.
One can use search engine optimization and positive responses to combat the hate. A structured, positive and factual response helps. Search engine optimization and consistent responses help push down hateful comments in search engines. But remember that whatever legal recourse you take, the harmful content can never be totally erased. Links exist; it may be archived or referenced in some blog post somewhere.
In today’s landscape it is important that users, victims and service providers all understand the importance of what constitutes online defamation, what rules are in place to prevent such occurrences and what needs to be done in terms of policies and regulations to prevent future attacks.
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