The internet is a scary place. While it has done phenomenal things to connect people and develop businesses, it has also served as an instant avenue for spreading hate and malicious information. Any social media user nowadays can damage your reputation in just a click.
Dealing with libelous content online can be tricky. When you browse your feeds, you’ll often encounter people sharing screenshots of their supposed conversations with a business entity or a sole proprietor, claiming that they’ve been treated wrongly or was given terrible service. Other users will then share these screenshots until it goes viral. So can the business entity or sole proprietor sue the customer for libel?
If the claims of the customer were false but were presented as true, that can be defamatory. But since evidence in the form of screenshots is also presented, the claims may not be overall defamatory.
Hence, proving libelous content isn’t always simple. But there are ways to protect your business’s reputation while dealing with online haters and trolls.
Determining Defamatory Content
When dealing with defamatory content, you may also hear the words “libel” and “slander.” These two, along with defamation, are often interchanged, but there are actually distinctions between them. Defamation is when someone makes (or in this case, posts) a false statement in a public setting that damages the reputation of your business. Libel is defamation in written form, and slander is defamation that is spoken.
Therefore, when a customer posts malicious content about your business, they are potentially committing libel or online defamation.
But not all false or malicious content can be considered libelous. For example, if your customer posts “I think [Your business name]’s customer service is dreadful! I wasn’t allowed inside because I refused to wear a mask.” That statement is an opinion, so theoretically, it is protected from libel suits. But it is true that you denied them service; hence, it can be viewed as a fact. Other people who refuse to wear masks may also think that it’s a fact because they believe that no business should deny them service for not wearing a mask.
Phrases such as “I think” or “I believe” doesn’t automatically grant posters a free pass, so you may still file libel charges against them for claiming that your customer service is “dreadful.”
Some states have “false light” laws, which forbids the publication of something that damages someone’s reputation. Unlike defamation, false light doesn’t require a factual statement. An example of this is when a customer creates a blog about the worst customer services they have experienced. If they used a photo of your business premises in the blog but did not state that you have bad customer service, you can still hold them liable, because they’ve implied that your business has bad customer service.
You can take screenshots of the post by using your computer’s snipping tool or pressing the CTRL + Prt Sc keys. You can do it on a Windows PC and a Mac. This will save a complete photo of the post on your computer so that even if the poster deactivates their account, you still have evidence of their post.
But the poster might claim that your screenshots were fabricated. So to provide stronger evidence, consider using a data archiving software solution, which freezes a website to preserve its older content. You can use this on social media to archive libelous statements made against you. All details of the post will be archived as well, such as the time and date the statement was posted. This will help you catch the poster guilty even if they already deactivated their account.
You may also save the webpage for additional documentation. Simply press the CTRL + S keys, and the webpage will be saved as an HTML file on your computer.
Providing quality customer service during these times can really be tricky, with social distancing measures in place. But as long as you never break any law, and protect your staff and customers from the virus, your business should always be in good light, despite your occasional haters.