The business community has long since realised the value of using social and online media to interact with their clients and customer base. It offers a cost effective and immediate platform to get feedback, recommendations and referrals. It also allows businesses to carry out market research, target clients and engage directly with its customer base in real time.

The flipside is that managing corporate reputation online presents a significant challenge. Positive customer reviews, feedback, tweets and comments are crucial when it comes to building and maintaining a reputation of note, but negative publicity can shatter it in an instant.

Monitoring social media

There is now a need for many businesses to monitor a variety of social media platforms online in an effort to keep track of trends and respond to issues before they attract any negative publicity. Occasionally, an untrue or malicious statement is published online that can have devastating consequences. Unlike a newspaper or a broadcast, the online audience is in real terms immeasurable. Damaging and defamatory allegations if not appropriately challenged can go viral instantly, wiping out a reputation or brand built up over many years.

Protection under the law

The law provides corporate entities with a means by which they can protect their reputation, both at an Irish and European level. The Irish Defamation Act 2009 specifically clarifies that a ‘body corporate’ can be defamed irrespective of whether it has incurred financial loss, and it specifically states that a body corporate is entitled by statute to pursue a defamation claim. This legislation contains a range of reliefs that can be sought by a company which has suffered reputational damage, such as a prohibition order preventing publication of a defamatory statement and a correction order, which requires the guilty party to apologise in a manner and form directed by the court.

Intermediary service providers, which host material and information provided by a recipient of that service, usually respond in a proactive manner when notified about online defamatory material by removing it where appropriate. If providers fail to do so, they stand to lose an exemption from liability for publication of that defamatory statement(s), pursuant to the Electronic Commerce Directive, 2000 which was transposed into Irish law in 2003.

The internet never sleeps

Managing a company's reputation online can be both demanding and rewarding. Reacting in a measured and appropriate manner to negative online material is critical. However, there may be times where certain material oversteps the mark and will be considered defamatory, irrespective of whether it was published intentionally, or otherwise.

If that material is not removed, there is a risk that publication will continue, with the material ultimately working its way into mainstream online, broadcast and print media causing irreparable damage. The old expression ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ was more appropriate in an age where iPads, smart phones and broadband did not exist. Today, this approach is outdated, especially where corporate reputation is under attack online. The internet neither sleeps nor dies.