What to do if you Have Been Defamed Online

The big news story, at least in social media circles, has been the lawsuit filed by Horizon Group Management LLC against Amanda Bonnen for her tweet about her apartment. Several comments that I have read relating to this matter have taken Horizon to task for filing suit over a tweet by a person who had only 20 (or so followers).

That, however, is not what I want to address. I presume that Horizon is doing what it wants to do and that it has both a legal and business reason for pursuing the course of action that it has taken. Thus, I am not here to criticize Horizon’s actions, but instead to address the question of what people or businesses should do if they believe that they have been defamed online (especially in a social media situation).

Any such discussion must first begin with an acknowledgment that businesses have been able to turn customer service problems into positive experiences by monitoring social media and responding to complaints. One of the best stories I have seen on this was one in which a Kabuki manger saw a tweet an apologized to the person while she was still in the restaurant.

On the other hand, there have also been situations in which companies have fired off a cease & desist letter that has been ridiculed. In fact, the EFF along with a variety of universities has compiled a database of cease & desist letters.

The qustion thus becomes, what do you do if someone online has said something about you or your business that you don’t like.

One option, of course, is you can try to correct the problem by contacting the person directly. As can be seen from the above stories, not only can that work out well for you, it can also lead to some good PR. Keep in mind, however, that not all feel-good stories make it to the mainstream press.

If you can’t satisfy the person’s problem or (for whatever reason) do not want to satisfy the person’s problem you can, of course, start your own PR campagn to dispute the posted info, you can ignore the posted information, or you can take action against the poster.

If you decide to take action against the poster, I urge you to search for an attorney who understands how social media works and what the service is. Sometimes, a lawsuit is a legitimate option to take. However, you should find an attorney who understands the pitfalls that arise at the intersection of litigation and social media.

Sometimes, to achieve the result that the client is looking for, a lawsuit is the only available option. Other times, however, familiarity with online sites and their working may allow a problem to be resolved, short of litigation. I once represented a client who was concerned about some critical comments that had been made about his business on a online forum. After reviewing the posts and the applicable terms of service, I realized that the posts violated the forum’s terms of service. I contacted the forum operator, pointed out the terms of service violation, and the forum operator removed the postings.

Of course not all problems can be solved this easily. However, the key thing to remember is that if you decide that you are considering taking action with respect to a defamatory comment posted on a social networking site, weigh the consequences of taking action against not taking action, and look for an attorney familiar with social media and its potential affects on your litigation.

Twitter Tips

I have written before about Twitter. If you do not use Twitter, there is no way that I can explain it to you without the concept sounding ridiculous. What I will say is that if you have thought about trying Twitter, I urge you to give a whirl. I think you will be surprised by what it offers.

At her blog Practicing Law in the 21st Century, Nicole Black has posted Twitter 101 for Lawyers. Niki explains:

Of course, you’re probably wondering whether Twitter has any value to you as a lawyer. It does. With Twitter you can network with other lawyers across the country and the world; promote your practice and its Web site or other online presence; receive news updates relevant to your area of practice and connect with potential clients or referral sources.

Twitter is an invaluable resource, as long as you know how to use it. The first step is to create an account at Twitter.com. Make sure to choose a user name that is easily recognizable and promotes your practice.

The next step is to locate people and organizations you’d like to follow, including people you already know, those who practice in the same area of law, potential clients and users with similar personal interests. There are a number of ways to do this.

Locate people you already know by running your Web-hosted e-mail address through Twitter’s system. (You’ll be prompted to do so when you first sign up.) Once you’ve connected with people you know, check their follower lists and “follow” anyone who interests you.

I urge you to read her entire post.

If you are curious, my Twitter page is here. You can find Niki’s here.

My Social Media Presence

I am not sure why, but it feels strange to say that. However, I do have one a presence and I might as well make it easy to find.

My LinkedIn page can be found here.

I have also recently started using Twitter. My Twitter page is here. Cleverly, my Twitter name is Bryan_Sims. Please note the underscore. Although I suppose you can follow the other BryanSims (note, no underscore). His life is probably more interesting than mine, given that he is the CEO of brass Media.

If you are not familiar with Twitter, I urge you to check it out. Twitter allows you to broadcast what you are doing 140 characters at a time. I avoided Twitter for a long time, fearing that I might like it. That prophecy has proven true. The reality is that no one can really explain the Twitter experience to you. You must check it out for yourself to truly understand it.

If you want a good guide to getting started with Twitter, I recommend this blog post from Michael Hyatt. He gives a step by step introduction to getting started with Twitter. What are you waiting for? Start tweeting.

Once you get started, you will probably want to add some Twitter Tools to your arsenal. My favorite is probably Twitbin, which is an extension for Firefox. I have been having problems with Twitbin lately, however, and have switched to twhirl, which I like a lot.

If you use a Palm device, you can use MoTwit to tweet from the road.