Internet Defamation and Cyberbullying on the Rise

By: Sameer Somal |  May 6, 2022

Today’s era is a witness to an exponential increase in the use of technology and online platforms. This has been essential in uniting people all over the world and behaving as a place to offer support and unity past geographical distance. The availability of platforms to express oneself and share meaningful content unfortunately also corresponds to more places for cyberbullying and harassment to take place, especially severe threats like internet defamation.

What Is Internet Defamation?

Internet defamation is the intentional use of a virtual medium to insult, defame or offend someone. Generally, it is said that internet defamation takes place when:

  • The statement made is false with the intent of harming someone’s reputation.
  • It communicates a fact, not just an opinion.
  • It is published on a public platform or communicated to someone other than the person being defamed.
  • The subject of the statement and their reputation is harmed as a result of it.

Recently, there has been a steep climb in the risk of derogatory and false content sweeping the internet and reaching a wide audience. It was found that the volume of defamation claims increased by 127% in 2019 as compared to 2013, despite the introduction of more laws to alleviate the aggravating situation. [3] The pandemic has made matters worse through our shift to a more virtual medium, and our heavy dependency on internet-based technologies which clearly have the potential of working against us.

Internet Defamation in the Era of Social Media

Today, social media behaves as one of the most dangerous places for internet defamation, leaving users vulnerable to being targets on such vast and unmonitored platforms. The ease, affordability, and anonymity by which someone can access the Internet is a cause for concern, having made it easier and more rewarding than ever before for online users to share false information about someone.  

Internet Defamation and Cyberbullying-1

Young people are amongst the most targeted, with 7 in 10 of them already having experienced cyberbullying before they hit the age of 18. [1] The pandemic has worsened the situation, recording a 70% increase in the amount of hate speech among teens and children since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. [4] Most of these young people suffer in silence, with a severe negative bearing on their growth. 

“The increase in actions over internet-based communications is a reflection of people’s concerns about their online reputations and the ease with which damaging information about individuals and businesses can be shared and spread.”

    -Keith Mathieson, head of media at City law firm RPC

Though online content may occasionally be moderated for legal reasons involving inappropriate elements, most of it is unregulated for defamation. Many people are not aware that an errant post may have devastating ramifications on an innocent third party.  Anonymity also encourages some individuals to dispense with the usual restraints that they might apply to other forms of publication. This makes it all the more important for consumers, social media users, and potential victims to better understand the landscape of online harassment and be well-informed on how to prevent internet defamation.

Cyberbullying vs. Internet Defamation

In a nutshell, cyberbullying refers to any form of bullying that occurs over an electronic media. It may involve publicly or privately harassing someone, ranging from offensive messages on personal chat to trolling someone in an open forum. Internet defamation is a more advanced form of cyberbullying which usually involves publicly posting defamatory content in an attempt to tamper with the reputation of a person or organization.  

Internet Defamation and Cyberbullying-2

Some internet defamation examples include:

  • Posting derogatory or false statements about someone on a social networking platform such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Liking or sharing something online which openly mocks another person
  • Modifying or creating defaming photos or videos of an individual.
  • Offensive posts about a person on an internet forum.
  • Webpages dedicated to making false claims and spreading hatred about a person or business.

Personal to Professional: Internet Defamation Consequences

While you might think that bullying is limited only to individuals, business cyberbullying is also a serious problem. Nowadays, organizations of all sorts are being harassed by cyberbullies, which goes to show how widespread the problem is. In fact, it is taking on the form of a new kind of digital crisis which can seriously impact the reputation of both—businesses and people.

Business cyberbullying and internet defamation are linked to serious financial losses, a decrease in employee morale and a downtick in a company’s brand, credibility, and prestige. Reversing this loss of reputation and trust takes considerable and efforts.

young boy frustrated from cyberbullying

On a personal level too, internet defamation consequences are severe. Such harassment can take a toll on one’s physical and mental health, resulting in a range of issues. People who face internet defamation and cyberbullying often deal with mental health problems such as feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem or a loss of self-confidence, anxiety, stress, and depression. [2] The implications of a single negative comment can be a long-drawn threat to a person’s wellbeing, adversely affecting them and all those around them.  

How to Remove and Prevent Internet Defamation

It is clear that internet defamation or cyberbullying cannot be taken lightly, and with such a high degree of virtual presence, it is important to be aware of how to prevent internet defamation, cyberbullying or harassment.

Although internet defamation is a complex subject, there are a few ways to minimize the damage and eventually allay the crisis. Here are the main techniques to remove internet defamation and deal with the problem tactfully:

1. Delete it

If it is within your control—such as a negative comment on your own social media handle—the easiest thing to do is delete it. For this, it is important to regularly review comments and be aware of what is being posted about you. This is especially true for businesses, who should routinely check the web and scan the content being written about them.

2. Ignore it

If online defamation is not responded to publicly, it is considered to be ignored by the individual. When it comes to businesses, this helps avoid drawing more attention to the negative statement. It works well when dealing with instances of low-level defamation that doesn’t have the power to significantly damage one’s reputation and instead, portrays the defamer as an unreliable source of information.

Ignoring a nasty remark in the instance of personal cyberbullying may not be the best course of action. Instead, it may help to privately write to the author of the defamatory statement, explaining that there has been a mistake in their statement, with a polite request to fully delete the content at the earliest.

3. Respond to it

Responding to online defamation means publicly replying to the defamer on the same platform where the defamatory content exists. While ignoring a cyberbully may help in some cases, taking action by correcting mistakes, clarifying your position or responding with facts, may be essential in others. This helps defend one’s good name and prevent the further spread of information.

It is best to reply swiftly and politely, no matter how hostile and rude the defamer is. While it is important to address the issue as soon as possible, it is also vital to not let emotions get in the way of forming a balanced response. By maintaining a professional demeanor, you will be supporting your legitimacy and stance.

4. Involve the Platform

This involves asking the site owner, editor, moderator or another person with decision-making authority of the respective platform to remove the offensive content.

Much of the defamatory content violates the safety guidelines and community standards of a platform, and if individual action—such as reporting or flagging—does not remove it, it may help to approach the platform, explain the situation and seek their help.

5. Take Legal Action or Get Professional Help

It is imperative to be aware of online harassment laws in your country or state and be prepared to take litigative action and press charges when required.

Another good way to address the issue is by suppressing it with the help of professionals through a process known as Online Reputation Management. This process uses a number of methods such as creating quality content, leveraging SEO and the like, to display accurate, timely, and relevant information about you or your business on search pages. This counters the damage and helps to remove internet defamation by only presenting positive information in search results. And by having a positive image at large, most people will tend to disregard any outliers or cyberbullies who have nothing good to say.

All in all, being aware of the risks which our evolving virtual context comes with is the key to prevent internet defamation, cyberbullying and other online threats, and create a safe and peaceful space for all.

Published by Sameer Somal

Sameer Somal is the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on digital transformation, online reputation management, search engine optimization, relationship capital and ethics. Fundamental to his work at Blue Ocean Global Technology, Sameer leads collaboration with an exclusive group of PR, Law and Management Consulting agency partners. He helps clients build and transform their digital presence. Sameer is a published writer and Internet Defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors continuing legal education (CLE) programs and is a member of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Education Advisory Council. Sameer serves on the board of the CFA Institute Seminar for Global Investors, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Girl Power Talk. He is an active member of the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF).

Sameer Somal
Sameer Somal, CFA, CFP®, CAIA

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