Going Viral, Gone Bad: What Do You Do If Defamation Goes Viral?
Congrats! A video of you just went viral! But is this always a good thing? Sure, if that was your intention. But videos or social media posts can spread like wildfire for all the wrong reasons. You also may not be able to control the narrative associated with going viral. So, what can you do if you go viral on the Internet – and you wish you didn’t? As Internet attorneys, we see “going viral, gone bad” situations quite often, and have assisted clients with addressing viral content. Sometimes, that means suing for defamation or false light, when professional reputations are affected and damages are incurred.
Suing for Defamation and False Light for Damages or an Injunction.
Firstly, if the viral content online is defamatory, you have the option to sue, either for an injunction or for damages, sometimes both. However, it is important to understand what exactly defamatory content is. Most importantly, the content must be false. If what is going viral is true, it’s not considered defamation. Then, you must be able to prove how the viral content damaged your personal or professional reputation. There are other factors one must consider before making the decision to sue, so it is best to consult with an experienced defamation attorney. If the content is true, but the commentators make false assertions of facts, then you may have a case. Sometimes the content is truthful, but there are false implications or associations made about the content. When that occurs, you may be able to sue using false light, instead of defamation. Often a well-written demand can be impactful, and prevent litigation.
Reputation Management Options.
Now, on the other hand, if the viral content is in fact true, it’s important that one performs some type of damage control in order to deescalate the situation. A public apology posted on the same platform the content went viral on is a start – if you feel it would be appropriate to apologize. Within that apology, it is smart to include steps you are taking to prevent whatever negative action you may have went viral for from happening again. But apologies can have serious implications, so check with counsel before you do.
Lastly, if the content going viral is your intellectual property that someone else is taking credit for, you have the option to send a DMCA takedown notice to the platform or website it is being shared on. The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) is a law created to protect intellectual property rights on the Internet. A DMCA takedown request can be submitted to any Internet service provider and can help get stolen content removed. However, making a false DMCA takedown demand can cost you attorney’s fees and actual damages – so don’t fake it.
If you or one of your clients has dealt with the negative effects of going viral on the Internet, consider some of the options discussed above. If legal action is necessary, get in contact with an experienced Internet attorney as soon as possible.