In the age of Tripadvisor, Yelp and other popular online review and complaint sites, postings (often anonymous) can seriously damage the online reputation of businesses from Main Street to Wall Street. What can you do if you are the victim of libel or slander against your business?

False statements of fact about a person that are printed, broadcast, spoken or communicated to others are usually characterized as libel or slander. Libel typically refers to written statements or visual depictions, while slander refers to verbal statements and gestures.

It is possible to sue an author of a defamatory post for libel. First, you will need to file a lawsuit against the author or “John Doe” – the unnamed author. Then you must seek a subpoena to obtain the identity (e.g., name and IP address) of the author, if unknown. Finally, you must obtain a court order that the post is false or defamatory. You may receive monetary damages (including the potential for punitive damages) and an injunction for the webmaster to remove the offending material.

If this sounds like a time-consuming and expensive venture, fraught with risk and the potential for more bad publicity, it is.

In order for the subject of the false statement to recover, the statement must actually harm the reputation of the other person – it must be defamatory – as opposed to being merely insulting or offensive. Name-calling or hyperbole cannot be proven true or false, and cannot be the subject of a libel or slander claim.

Public figures, such as politicians, celebrities, and other well-known individuals, are required to prove actual malice, essentially showing that the defendant knew his statement was false or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of his statement. In most jurisdictions, private individuals have an easier burden of proof, they must show only that the defendant was negligent: failure to act with due care.

While the burden of proof is usually on the plaintiff, the primary defenses to a defamation claim are that the statements are true, are not statements of fact, or are privileged (e.g., in the public interest). Even if you are successful in litigation, the parties to the claim are entitled to appeal. Courts are very hesitant to take any action that would chill the exercise of the defendant’s First Amendment rights.

Many clients are finding success with online reputation management, a strategy to take control about what is being said about you or your company online. Online reputation management companies elevate the visibility of positive online content on the top pages of popular search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo – diminishing the ranking and impact of negative content.

Reputation Rhino’s reputation management services are designed to help individuals and small business clients promote, protect and defend their online reputation.