Unfortunately, finding that you’ve been targeted for defamation is never something that’s easy to deal with. As the usage of social media has become widespread, chats and forums appearing anywhere online; it’s not uncommon for individuals to face libel online — the form of defamation that consists of statements that are published in writing. Slander, a defamatory statement expressed verbally, is less common online, but it is still good to understand what it is, so you can better recognize defamation if you come across it.
What actions can you take against defamation online?
While Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is in place to protect innovation and offer legal protections to online intermediaries like social platforms or news websites, there are some things you can try to potentially remove false information about you from the web. If you find yourself a victim of libel or defamation through online publication, here are some tactics you can try to remove false information that affects your reputation.
Contact the Person Who Published
The first thing you can do is find the person who published the false information and see if you contact them directly. Before you send your message, make sure to review what you are sending and requesting the person to do. In some cases, there’s the chance that the perpetrator could publish the message that you’ve just sent, or simply post more false information about you as a response.
Depending on the gravity of the situation, in some cases it might be good to consider getting a lawyer to craft the message, to ensure that there isn’t a risk of further defamation.
Reach Out to the Website
If the person who published it doesn’t respond or refuses to cooperate, the next step you can take is report the issue to the host — either the website or the site’s web host. Always start with the terms and conditions of the website, to see what they consider to be violations of their terms and whether there’s a procedure for reporting the false information that you can follow. If you can show a violation of their terms, provide evidence that displays this in your request to the website, as it will help strengthen your case.
Report to Google
Finally, try reaching out to Google and other search engines to get the false information delisted from search results. Google has a clear policy on defamatory private information and provides a method for reporting it. Google provides links and details about the kinds of information that can be readily reported for removal requests, such as instances when non-defamatory private information, like sexually explicit images of you shared without your consent.
Keep in mind, however, that removing a search result containing your information just means that it won’t show up in search results. While the content might be hosted on the website, its reach via search engines would be dissipated.
Dealing with defamatory content online is a tough ask, and can become overwhelming. There are PR and reputation experts that can help both businesses and individuals in polishing their online image and avoid unpleasant surprises.