In a world where a social media post can spread at a ferocious speed it can be detrimental to a business or individual damaging reputations in just a few hours.

Not only damaging to reputation, online abuse can be just as damaging to an individual and, with the dramatic rise of social media, celebrities and personalities are becoming victim of trolling across digital platforms.

For example, in recent news, there’s been a lot of conversation around Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and the racist abuse he received on social media after missing a penalty in his side’s 1-1 draw against Wolves in August.

In reaction, England women’s manager Phil Neville has called out for players to boycott social media to send a strong message that online abuse is not acceptable.

Responding to Phil Neville’s plea, social platforms Twitter, Instagram and Facebook replied with statements outlining how they strongly condemn online abuse, work with external organisations to crack down on the issues and ban people who repeatedly break guidelines.

Unfortunately, due to the ease of social media, online abuse has become easy for people to spread derogatory or racist comments – and, how much can social platforms do to make a stand against online abuse?

 

Positive developments for Twitter users

Twitter recently launched a new feature that will automatically hide direct messages that its automated systems think could be offensive. The feature, which is part of a wider push by the platform to cut down on online abuse, will filter out potentially offensive messages and allow the user to either read or delete the messages.

 

What to do when faced with online defamation?

When faced with online defamation people need to be aware of their legal rights, what they should do when faced with volatile social posts and how to deal with it.

 

Keebles Senior Associate Andrew Broadbent advises: The law on defamation is governed by the Defamation Act 2013. This means that, for a statement to be defamatory, its publication must cause or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the Claimant. In the case of a company, the serious harm must cause – or be likely to cause – a serious financial loss.

Whilst the Defamation Act 2013 is a relatively concise piece of legislation that can be reviewed relatively quickly, there are a number of wider legal points that can impact on its application and other commercial factors to be aware of if subject to online defamation.

Act quickly to reduce reputational risks. It stands to reason that the longer a defamatory remark remains online, the greater the risk to a business’ reputation. This is particularly the case in respect of social media posts, where the content can be shared thousands of times within a matter of minutes. In such circumstances, a failure to act quickly can render the possibility of totally removing all traces of a post almost impossible.

Preserve the evidence by quickly securing a copy of the offending comments.

Although social media often enables an immediate response, resist the temptation to respond to the negative material without weighing-up the benefits of doing so and, if possible, taking legal advice.

Take steps to mitigate any harm that may be suffered by the defamatory remark. For example, if a comment has been posted on a company social media channel, consider whether the relevant page can be temporarily removed or amended whilst steps are taken to remove the post entirely.

Consider reporting the offending post using the available procedures available on a number of the major social media platforms.

Take advice as to whether a post is actually defamatory. Often, in the case of negative reviews, whilst the content is obviously unhelpful for a practice it may not actually constitute defamation.

With this in mind it is vital that businesses closely monitor their own social media channels and wider online publications and posts, to ensure that any risk is limited as far as possible.

Businesses and/or individuals need to establish a consistent approach to dealing with defamatory remarks and if in doubt, always take early advice from an experienced solicitor who can provide guidance as to what steps should be taken.