Believe it or not, I was emailed by a company claiming defamation of their brand through a review I wrote. I thought I took all of the appropriate steps in writing the review. I used words that were not damning but, instead focused on those that gave the reader the chance to decide. I argued my opinion based on what little facts I had. Even if I was right, I did not battle this one for one reason: money.
This post is important for anyone who writes a blog, comments on blogs, writes reviews, etc. Your opinions could end up getting you sued!
Why I Didn’t Fight Accusations of Defamation
I still hold that this company in question (I will not mention their name or hint at who they are) to be a scam and a fake. Nevertheless, a case takes time, It takes fees, it takes stress. When I talked it over with my attorney (yes, that right there already was an unnecessary fee) we agreed fighting wouldn’t be worth it. The offending pages in question were not making me money, they were not affecting my SEO dramatically and the type of traffic they were bringing wasn’t stellar. What would I have to gain from fighting this?
You could argue it’s a fight for the first amendment and free speech advocates all over the world are yelling. The reality is, free speech does not protect those responsible for libel or defamation – even if I thought I was free of those allegations. It’s sad, but the language used to suggest that one is or is not guilty of defamation on a blog is quite complex, hardly black or white.
For example, comments made to create entertainment, to aid in literary prose are often not considered defamation. Similarly, calling someone a jackass or idiot is not likely to be charged as defamation because those comments are considered, silly or like slang. Notice, I said likely. None of this is cut and dry. On the opposite end, making mention of ill-received goods or services that are highly detailed will likely result in defamation, mostly because the accuser will go to great lengths to suggest that you the writer, exaggerated.
What I Learned and Why It is Important to Not Commit Acts of Defamation
Regardless of whether or not the company in my particular situation (again I will not mention their name nor will I hint at it) was in the right or wrong on this matter: it is very important to understand the damaging consequences of defamation.
Imagine you create your first ebook on Amazon and a competitor pays people to review your book and write menacing and unthoughtful negative reviews about your book. How does this affect you? Besides being psychologically traumatizing (which is punishable) it also affects your bottom line. Imagine if you were counting on this for income, for your family and your well-being. People shouldn’t have the ability to just make negative comments without proof, facts and evidence. As well, they should not be permitted to exaggerate upon those at the expense of the other party.
Am I in Trouble for a Negative Review I Wrote?
Yes, you probably could be. The worst part is, you can be held liable for defamation created on sites that are not your own. Sites like message boards, forums and the popular review sites like Amazon or Yelp are not held responsible, the author of the comment(s) in question are. For one, you had better hope you used an incredibly misleading or fake screen name, one which is untraceable to the real you. Otherwise, you would be best to comply with the accuser when they send that first email or phone call. Resolving the problem before they are even interested in going to court or seeking a settlement is the way to go.
If you have the time do some research on some cases that have been brought to court. Another tip is to see if your case would even qualify. The statue of limitations in California is 1 year to bring a case forward after it’s initial publication.
Do I Have any Regrets in Removing the Content?
Not really. I was surprised and angered at first because it was never my intention to defame anyone. However the more I thought about it, the more I realized the reason I wrote those reviews of that company was because there were problems with that company. I see this as a last ditch effort to recover what they have left. What I wrote was certainly not the beginning of their troubles and there have been plenty more after me – all of which who have written more profound and damaging content.
Sometime I think the company was just sending a scare email and they didn’t even have the resources to pursue me or any basis, just trying to clear up some of their negative SEO. What’s done is done. I have no regrets. I can look forward to producing better content and I definitely learned to be more careful about what I write and who I write about.