Defamation Online

When you are thinking about visiting to a restaurant you might go to a popular restaurant review to see what other’s have experienced at a particular restaurant. If there are too many negative reviews of a that restaurant, you would probably look elsewhere.  But what if those reviews were written by a disgruntled employee?

Thinking of taking a course at a local college? You might review :Rate-My-Professors.com” to get student’s reviews of a professor who teaches that course.  But how do you know if the ratings, positive or negative, are from a student who actually took the class?   Those reviews might originate from a professor’s neighbor, a student’s friend or any number of sources.

As consumers, we have come to rely on the opinions of others to make choices about where to eat, what course to take, or which product to buy.  We can’t really tell if the rating is true or if the rater is trying to defame a person or business. We then need to look at the site to see if reviews are allowed by members only. Those sites might be more reliable. Our right to post positive or negative review as protected by the First Amendment.  A site might have “rules” for posting and claim to take down objectionable posts.

For companies who are the target of negative reviews, reputations might be damaged. They can sue, if they can get the name of the poster, but, as you will see after reading the section on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, they can sue the service provide or the website.  In Legal and Ethical Considerations for Public Relations, 2nd ed, Karla K. Gower states that the burden of prof in a defamation lawsuit lies with the plaintiff.  She writes that plaintiffs must “prove all six essential elements to win a libel case:

  1. Publication
  2. Identification
  3. Defamation
  4. Fault
  5. Falsity
  6. Injury.” (Gower, p. 65-66)
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