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Social Media and Defamation: Is there recourse against that inevitable unfair review?

By: Cristina N. Hyde, JD

Lately it seems that the accessibility of the internet has become a double-edged sword for many business owners. While internet marketing and social media advertising have nearly become a necessity for success, an accompanying pitfall is the ease with which disgruntled consumers can publicly air grievances to a broad audience; substantially increasing the opportunity for defamation.

Defamation is a false statement of fact; not opinion.  When a defamatory statement is written and published, it is considered libel and could be actionable in court if the aggrieved party has clear evidence that the malicious falsehood caused harm to their good reputation or livelihood. If successful, a plaintiff could receive civil damages including compensation for emotional distress or harm to reputation.  A plaintiff could also request a declaratory judgment that the statements are false which is often published to mitigate the damage done. However, defamation cases are notoriously difficult to prove.

In New Jersey, courts will balance accusations of defamation against protections of speech provided by both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the New Jersey State Constitution. Also, today’s keyboard warriors enjoy a frustrating level of anonymity while internet service providers and social media platforms are protected from defamation claims by the Communications Decency Act.  Therefore, if a maligned business owner cannot ignore the injury, relying on other positive reviews to maintain their reputation, the best first step is often to contact the author (if known) and attempt to amicably resolve the dispute.

If a conversation does not lead to a resolution, then it may be time to reach out to an attorney.  There are many precursors to litigation and the right path for an aggrieved party is highly fact-specific and can range anywhere from obtaining assistance with a strongly worded demand letter to filing for injunctive relief.

If you believe you or your small business has been defamed and would like help navigating your next best step, Contact Us.

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