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Making Sense of Online Defamation in Cyberspace

5 minute read

This blog is written from the security perspective and is in no way intended to serve as legal advice for defamation cases. 

When negative sentiments can spread at the click of a button, security and legal practitioners may find themselves in a precarious situation. Parsing online defamation and verified threats from unsavory opinions for an organization’s employees, customers or executives online is no small feat — all while protecting online reputation from harm. 

With the constant influx of online content to review combined with the uncertainty of what constitutes a post as defamation, security leaders can feel like they’re lost in cyberspace. With this blog post, security professionals will learn what online defamation is, what networks can offer for those cases and why it’s so important to keep connected with your in-house legal team for these incidents. 

What is Online Defamation? 

According to US-based internet defamation law firm, Minc Law, ”defamation refers to a false statement made to a third party that causes damage to another person or entity’s reputation.” Both libel and slander are two commonly known categories of defamation. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation uses this example to show the difference between defamation and opinion:

  • “I really hate George Lucas’ new movie” is not defamation as it’s not fact based and entirely an opinion. 
  • “It’s my opinion that Trinity is the hacker who broke into the IRS database” is defamation as it’s an assertion of fact dressed up as an opinion. 

Traditionally, defamation has been applied to the spoken or written word, but now that communication takes place online, defamation has a new territory to thrive. When defamation occurs in a public, electronic context, it’s categorized into what many are calling “online defamation” or “internet defamation,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Public networks and online forums have their fair share of challenges when it comes to deciphering what’s defamation and what’s free speech, but according to the article, “Facebook, Defamation, and Terrorism: Who Is Responsible For Dangerous Posts on Social Media,” the law is still evolving to align with crimes, such as defamation, in today’s digital-first environment. 

“It’s my opinion that Trinity is the hacker who broke into the IRS database” is defamation as it’s an assertion of fact dressed up as an opinion.

– ELECTRONIC FRONTIER FOUNDATION

“As the Internet continues to take on a stronger presence worldwide, it is inevitable that the current legislation will need to be revisited and adapt to the modern Internet user.” (26 Tul. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 163)

Traditionally legal counsel would be first on the scene to address a defamation case. With the public, online nature of new defamation cases, specifically those targeted to organizations and their executives, security teams should also be at the forefront of the case — working to take down publicly made posts before reputation is compromised

What Public Applications can Offer for Removing Online Defamation

Public networks and online forums are highly invested in creating a safe space online. When it comes to cases such as online defamation, it seems that businesses, individuals and the networks themselves even struggle to determine exactly what constitutes as defamatory and what is a shared opinion. As such, most networks have robust terms of service pages to define exactly what is not tolerated on public networks to foster a safe online environment. 

Twitter, for example, has one of the most comprehensive terms of service pages in the industry. They clearly define published actions, such as harassment and threats of violence, that will qualify for removal. Additionally, there’s an option to “appeal” a decision made on removal to provide an additional review on content. 

If an incident of defamation has been posed to an organization or its executives online, it falls to security teams to go through the content removal process before their reputation is tarnished. Security teams that leverage automated platforms to alert on negative sentiments and aid in remediation efforts will be better positioned to quickly remove the threat. Alternatively, legal teams that work closely with security teams will gain exceptional insight into published sentiments against their organization or executives that may warrant legal action.

Identifying and taking action against online defamation requires more than what one team can offer. It facilitates both security and legal teams in alignment to understand the full scope of the issue and devise an action plan. Minc Law, a top US-based internet defamation law firm, leverages security insights collected from ZeroFox to help clients in today’s digital-focused world. 

It is really about diving into all of these sources and monitoring them to come up with a strategic way to go beyond something like Google Alerts.

– david toth

In this article published by Cleveland Jewish News, David Toth, an independent marketing contractor with Minc Law, states that “People are starting to see their virtual world collide with their physical world. The way things can grow online today is much more exponential as well. The important thing to keep in mind here is that the internet is a really big place and things are not just going to Google. It is really about diving into all of these sources and monitoring them to come up with a strategic way to go beyond something like Google Alerts.”

This is a rising concern for many organizations, specifically for their predominant executives. Aside from negative sentiments expressed publicly on the internet, there can also be threats of violence made online that can impact their physical security. Security teams must have the situational awareness needed to identify those threats, and providing that information to legal counsel is critical to quickly taking action. For example, suppose security identifies legitimate harassment and threats of violence against one of their executives. In that case, they can initiate the content removal process while providing legal counsel with critical information to help them initiate a case for a restraining order.

Sample ZeroFox Platform Threat Alert
Sample ZeroFox Platform Threat Alert

This may still be progressive for some organizations, but there are firms that have fully embraced security and legal alignment to ensure that clients and/or executives are fully protected. Aaron Minc, President and Founder of Minc Law, shared “We’re the only law firm in the world that offers digital risk protection services on top of legal services in an already very unique and well-defined niche area.” 

David Toth also expressed, “A lot of services today only do the monitoring and identifying part. But we’re able to assess the issues and threats and determine if they are viable, if we need to take action and how we do that. I would say that is truly one of the things that no one else can do in this space. That has made our clients comfortable with it. They have a reliable source they can reach at any point to find out if what has happened is good, bad and everything in between.”

Finding the North Star in Cyberspace

With the quick adoption of public platforms, there’s no surprise that security practitioners are fraught with uncertainty to determine true defamation cases versus opinions shared online. Those most successful in removing negative sentiments work with Protection and Intelligence Platforms to identify online incidents and work with a team of experts to remediate content online.

Request a demo and learn more about how Protection and Intelligence Platforms can assist both security and legal teams in identifying instances of online defamation.

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