There is no doubt that in this day and age that the Internet is a primary resource which people use to find a company from which to purchase items from or to obtain services. Often times, consumers may search a specific website to obtain reviews as to the materials or services which your company may provide. In doing so, the consumer may come across reviews posted by other individuals which may directly sway their decision whether or not to engage your company. Obviously, if the review is truthful and positive it benefits your company. On the other hand, however, should there be an overly negative review which is either false or misleading it could drastically affect your business, as it is available for all to see when researching online. In such a case of potential defamation, your company may have several options.

Depending upon the nature of the review, it may be best to simply ignore it and allow it to eventually be buried by other reviews. However, should a review be directly false and misleading and should it have the possibility of causing great harm to your company there are a few options you may choose from. The first option would involve locating the individual who posted the bad review. Presumably, it would be a prior customer which would enable you to research who the person is and to find out the information. In such cases, an attorney may send a Cease and Desist letter and request that the person remove the improper review. It should be noted that once this letter is sent, that the plan could essentially backfire and this individual could seek to publicize the fact that you requested the removal of the review. In the alternative, the individual may comply and may remove the negative review which would benefit you. Should this take place, then it is obvious that the strategy was proper.

Should the negative review not be removed and should you have evidence that it has caused you economic harm, it may make sense to commence an action for defamation. Another possibility for commencing an action for defamation would be if the false statement is defamation per se. This will be explored in a later blog, however it may entitle you to damages even if you do not prove any economic loss. In general, in order to prosecute a claim for defamation, you must prove economic loss which is directly related to the improper and unlawful statement. Obviously, this may be difficult to prove, and thus, can render these cases tricky to prosecute. There are a multitude of factors which you must weigh in deciding whether to file suit to pursue such a claim.

With the rampant defamation which occurs online, it is suggested that you consult with an attorney prior to taking any action. The attorneys at Stark & Stark have great experience in this area and would be happy to discuss your options with you.

Recently, I was the attorney who prosecuted the matter of Dana Goldhaber vs. Charles Kohlenberg. This case dealt with Internet defamation and the jurisdiction of Courts to hear a matter. This case has been widely cited by Courts across the Country and its importance continues to grow. My words of wisdom that are bestowed upon any party that participates in Internet news groups, Facebook, or other chat rooms, is that they should not post anything on the internet that they wouldn’t want their own mother to read. Moreover, they should not assume that an Internet chat room or a similar board is a “free for all” and that there are no potential repercussions for things they have posted. On the contrary, information posted on the Internet is akin to publishing the information in print. If the information posted is willfully false, or constitutes defamation per se, which is defined by statute, this party may be subject to a lawsuit by the aggrieved individual. 

 

As discussed in Goldhaber vs. Kohlenberg, the Courts have extended the long reach of jurisdiction to parties well outside of the State of the victim, as long as the original party understood that his conduct might reach inside the State of the victim and affect that individual. As such, a strong word of wisdom for those posting to Internet news groups is to assume that what they are posting was published and passed out amongst their neighbors. To assume otherwise, may only lead to an unpleasant and costly lawsuit in the future. 

 

If you have questions regarding Internet defamation and would like to discuss this matter in more detail, feel free to contact me in my firm’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office.