Social Media and the Olympics: A Lesson in Criticism Response for All Business Owners

[Link: #NBCfail: Twitter, the Olympics, Guy Adams & Justin Bieber]

This Bloomberg Law interview with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm on a larger issue (the Olympics #NBCFail fiasco and Internet censorship) also underscores an important point for all businesses in the Social Age: silencing online critics doesn’t always work in your favor.

That (seemingly obvious) truth proved itself once more when NBC asked Twitter to sanction journalist Guy Adams, who was using his Twitter account as a soapbox to criticize the network’s Olympic coverage. Result? As Timm puts it, Adams received “the ultimate Follow Friday.” If NBC had ignored him, few people would have known about his criticism.

So what’s a business owner to do when faced with harsh online criticism? Legal actions? Common sense? The following advisories help us piece together the beginnings of an answer:

When Your Online Rant Can Get You Sued (Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C.):

“In my last three posts, we covered online defamation from the business owner’s perspective. Today, we look at it from the consumer’s perspective. The local NBC affiliate in Houston interviewed me and others for a story about it you can watch here. The way the story was edited, it almost appeared I support suing consumers when ‘sounding off crosses the line when it goes beyond personal and turns factual.’ It really should be that when it goes beyond opinion and you state facts that are not true, you can get sued.” Read on>>

Protecting Yourself Online Doesn’t Have to Involve Legal (Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C.):

“You may not be able to remove the content, but sometimes, you can push it down to obscurity. How many pages deep into the search results do you go when looking up something? If you can move the bad content down, then very few people will see it. Online reputation management experts claim to know the secret sauce to have the negativity moved down which usually takes some time to create more timely positive content.” Read on>>

Dentist Drills Toothy Patient for Painful Online Review (

“Dentists and doctors increasingly are policing what you say online about their services. In the most recent case, a prominent New York dentist, Dr. Stacy Makhnevich, threatened to sue a former patient, Robert Lee, over a negative review Lee posted to Yelp!, an online review website. The tables have turned though, and now Lee and his lawyers are biting back with a class action against Makhnevich.” Read on>>

How to Identify the Anonymous Online Defamer (Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C.)

“Before an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or site will be forced to give up information about an anonymous person, most states follow what is known as the Cahill test first spelled out in the Delaware case of Doe v. Cahill. The Cahill test requires a plaintiff, suing for defamation, to make a prima fascia case of defamation to find out the identity from an internet service provider.” Read on>>

Conclusion of Online Defamation Series – Anti-SLAPP (Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C.):

“Other than drawing more attention to the damaging online material, paying for a lawyer and having to answer uncomfortable questions under oath, what are the other risks about bringing a defamation claim? If you are not careful, you could end up paying the defendants’ attorneys’ fees. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have passed Anti-SLAPP or ‘Anti Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’ legislation to deter the proliferation of defamation suits brought on by social media.” Read on>>

The Cost of Fake Online Reviews Goes Beyond Morality (Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C.):

“If you are looking for some information on what happens when you are victim [to a fake competitor review] … then read on. A Missouri court recently awarded a company $150,001 as the victim of three fake online reviews. In the case of The Fireworks Restoration Company v. Hosto, two gentlemen formed two companies together. As often happens when you mix business with friendship, the relationship went downhill and the parties split their businesses. Mr. Hosto, apparently, was not happy with the result.” Read on>>

Twitter: A ‘Caveat Emptor’ Exception to Libel Law? (Pryor Cashman LLP):

“The invention of online speech has not required the formulation of a new area of ‘cyberspace tort law’ in which to evaluate allegations of defamation. Nevertheless, it has been widely observed in defamation cases that postings over Internet ‘chat rooms,’ ‘message boards,’ and ‘blogs’ are often characterized by ‘a looser, more relaxed communication style,’ necessitating an emphasized focus on the overall context of the allegedly defamatory words under review.” Read on>>

A Lawyer’s Guide To The Top 13 Social Media Issues (Abrams Fensterman Fensterman Eisman Formato Ferrara & Einiger LLP):

“While an employer may validly terminate an employee for making derogatory comments about the employer on the internet, rev’d on other grounds (holding that an employer may terminate an employee who posted derogatory comments about the company and company executives), the courts are loath to grant injunctions prohibiting employee speech in advance of the speech.” Read on>>

A Primer on SLAPP Suits and Anti-SLAPP Motions (Aaron Morris):

“A ‘SLAPP suit’ is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. I use the expression Spurious Litigation Against Public Participation, since that better captures both the goal of the plaintiff and the nature of the lawsuit, but the standard verbiage is ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation’.” Read on>>

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