The internet –social media in particular –represents an unprecedented open platform for communication and interaction. While individuals have gained greater scope to exercise their freedom of expression, the online space has also become the front line for the rise of criticism and offence. In the digital media age, the spread of information is wide-reaching and rapid, but one needs to bear in mind that the internet never forgets, so false claims made online can rarely be wiped out and as a result could cause untold damage to an individual’s reputation.
Defamation, also known as libel, is defined as a wrongful act constituting a false statement about an individual, whose reputation is damaged as a result. In cases involving businesses and companies, libel can have serious impact on performance and business indicators.
In the internet age, this is a problem requiring an urgent solution. During a round table hosted by Schillings Partners, a reputation management firm, 93% of attendees agreed that serious claims on the internet should be ignored.
“The instant nature of social media is certainly changing the face of defamation law,” said Ian Birdsey, a senior associate at Pinsent Masons, to the FT. “More and more people use social media to communicate, and often with people beyond their immediate social sphere. All this brings with it a number of challenges — and one of those would appear to be a rise in the number of defamation claims relating to derogatory online posts.”
Addressing the issues of libel and untrue statements, the Defamation Act 2013 came into force to strengthen protective measures for reputation against inappropriate claims. The Act raised the threshold of defamation from ‘substantial’ to ‘serious harm’, increasing the severity of the issue and the damage caused to the reputation of individual libel victims.
The Act has proved effective, as cases of libel have decreased in the UK. According to a research by Thomson Reuters, there were 49 reported defamation cases resulting in a court hearing in the UK over the year to the end of June 2017 , down from 86 three years ago.
Out of the total, 22 percent of the defendants were newspapers, down from 50 percent ten years ago. Despite the decrease, individual claims increased to 43 in 2017, up two on the year before, which perhaps signals that users are as yet unaware of the implications of false claims on social networks.
Paying the price: Costs of defamatory claims affects individuals and corporations
The indiscriminate use of social media can indeed be very expensive for users, who may consider their online behavior benign, but in reality negatively impact someone’s image with their opinion. Back in 2014, Sharon Smith, a fitness instructor, faced legal action by Joanne Walder after posting on her Facebook that Walder had been the perpetrator of acts of violence. Walder claimed more than £20,000 in damages.
A spokesman for Sharon Smith said to the Evening Standard at the time: “The message which prompted the case was only meant to be sent to a close friend. However, it ended up being posted to all her friends — clearly showing the potential pitfalls of Facebook.”
Earlier in April, US first lady Melania Trump won damages from Daily Mail after the paper made allegations that she had worked as an escort. After withdrawing the allegations and publishing an apology, Daily Mail settled the case for $3 million.
In another episode last year, Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins was ordered to pay £24,000 in damages to writer and food blogger Jack Monroe after Hopkins attacked her via Twitter.
“It’s been a horrible, stressful experience and I’m so relieved it’s over. There are six ringbinders full of hateful poisonous messages I received, and I’ve had to read and reread them in the course of all this. I’m so glad I’ll never have to read them again,” said Monroe to the Guardian.
The solution: Give subjects the right to reply to the claim
A platform which allows all participants in a story a space to defend themselves, provide their version of the facts and tell their truth would prove invaluable. It is important to guarantee right of reply in the same space so as to not lose relevance and time, which could further intensify any reputation damage.
Right of Reply has a new, innovative solution that empowers individuals to directly control their online reputation. The concept of ‘Right of Reply’ offers individuals the right to respond to any criticism made about them in the same place that the original criticism was published, through its suite of patented search, respond and publish tools.
“We recognise the value of online reputation management and addressing incorrect and defamatory content that can spread easily on the internet. The significant associated legal costs could be saved if there was a tool available to manage replies to erroneous content and statements. RoR has created a revolutionary solution and product for newspapers and online media to circumnavigate the risk of lawsuits by people mentioned in their content. Our aim is to create an online reputation ecosystem for individuals to manage their online reputations in a simple, direct, low-cost and effective way that empowers individuals and at the same time protects online media,” said Stefania Barbaglio, Right of Reply PR and UK Development.
To find out more about Right of Reply’s services, please visit the company website https://rightofreply.news
Right of Reply team will also be attending and presenting at the upcoming Cassiopeia Investor Symposium on the 21 November 2018.
For more information and to register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cassiopeia-investor-symposium-tickets-47398735895