Social Media Defamation and Reputational Attacks
In business, a company or professional’s reputation is paramount. If your reputation is damaged you can suffer lost clients, customers and revenue. Social media has provided a new way for companies and individuals to have their reputation unfairly tarnished.
Social media provides an individual the almost instantaneous ability to broadcast a defamatory statement and reach a large audience. The law has begun to catch up. Recently, a Massachusetts court allowed a $1.5 million attachment of assets in a social media defamation case. In Clay Corporation v. Colter a car dealership terminated an employee for cause as a result of inappropriate interactions with employees and customers. The employee had cancer and her brother started a social media campaign to disparage the car dealership.
The social media campaign was launched by the employee’s brother who claimed she was fired because she had cancer. The Facebook page created by the defendant garnered tens of thousands of likes and claimed the car dealership had discriminated against other employees with cancer and urged people to boycott the car dealership. The car dealership estimated that it lost over $100,000 in revenue as a result of the social media campaign.
The car dealership filed suit. To prove a claim of defamation under Massachusetts law a plaintiff must prove that the defendant was at fault for the publication of a false statement regarding the plaintiff, capable of damaging the plaintiff’s reputation in the community, which either caused economic loss or is actionable without proof of economic loss.
In Clay, the Court found that the defendant’s statements on the Facebook page had no factual support. Further, the Court found that the car dealership had suffered a significant loss in business as a result of the social media defamation. Since the Court found that the statements made during the social media campaign were defamatory and the plaintiff had a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits the Court granted a $1.5 million attachment of the defendant’s assets.
The ease with which a disgruntled individual can publish a new Facebook page or blast their false accusations across social media makes it very easy for a company to be significantly damaged in a short period of time. Cases such as Clay show that the law is catching up with these individuals and there is a remedy available if you or your company has been defamed through social media.