How to Respond to Online Brand and Reputation Attacks

by · August 26, 20142 comments

Online brand and reputation attacks have become some of the easiest and most impactful mechanisms for individuals and companies to cause serious harm to businesses.

These types of attacks can originate from a variety of sources, but most commonly the “attackers” are competitors, disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, dissatisfied investors, extortionists or other people and businesses who become upset with a company and want to cause that company serious damage.

Further, these attacks come in many forms, including:

  • Making a slew of defamatory postings on gripe websites such as Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer;
  • Posting false information on social media websites or apps, including Facebook and Twitter;
  • Anonymously sending defamatory emails to clients or customers;
  • Posting false reviews on Yelp or similar websites; altering Wikipedia entries about a company or particular executives in an embarrassing or otherwise harmful way; or
  • Creating websites or blogs and posting disparaging information on these platforms.

AttackThis type of conduct is often misperceived as being protected. It is not.

Considering the ease with which these types of attacks can be initiated, and because of how quickly content can spread on the Internet, online reputation has become a top concern for businesses and executives. In fact, according to “Exploring Strategic Risk,” Deloitte’s 2013 survey of 300 executives, reputation was cited as the as the top strategic risk for large businesses.

Not only was it the overall “highest impact risk area,” but reputation was also the top concern in most individual sectors. A primary cause for such concern is how easily and quickly information can spread on the Internet and social media, and the resulting potential of widespread damage.

Should you respond?

So, if your brand or business is being harmed on the Internet, what is the proper response, if any? Well, that is somewhat of a complex question because solutions for these online attacks are very fact dependent, and you must consider various factors.

First, it is necessary to evaluate the attacker’s characteristics and find out as much information as possible about the attacker and whether they pose a significant threat.

More specifically, it will be important to determine the following:

  • Whether this is likely a one-time attack by a disgruntled party or the beginning of a full-fledged campaign attack;
  • How sophisticated the attacker is;
  • Whether the attacker has a large social media and online presence or following; and
  • How likely the attacker might be to spread the information around the Internet in highly visible places.

The potential for the information to spread and be seen by large audiences – even if not highly visible today – is particularly important for several reasons. This includes statute of limitations considerations, as that begins to run the day material is first posted online. Even if the harmful content does not initially rank highly on search engines, it eventually could appear on the first page of search engine results (even after the statute of limitations has expired).

At any moment, a person could hyperlink to the defamatory post somewhere that will reach a significantly higher number of people searching for your business. Thus, in evaluating the potential harm, your company should consider the probability that the information could spread at some point in the future and, if not dealt with, it could leave the harmed party without legal recourse.

See the full “In-House Counsel Guidebook” for more information on handling these attacks

When your brand has been attacked online, considering the factors outlined above is just a fraction of the analysis. What if your attacker is anonymous or used a pseudonym? How do you identify an unknown attacker? When or once the identity of an attacker is known, what are your options and which techniques are best? Can you recover damages?

These questions and more are detailed in our newly released resource for in-house attorneys, the In-House Counsel Guidebook: How to Handle Internet Defamation and Online Reputation Attacks. If you have any further questions, call 855.542.9192 or email wcgibson@vorys.com.

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About Whitney Gibson

Whitney Gibson

Whitney Gibson and Mary Henkel are attorneys in the Cincinnati office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, where Whitney leads the internet defamation group. You can contact Whitney at 855.542.9192 or wcgibson@vorys.com. Read more about the practice at www.defamationremovalattorneys.com and www.defamationremovalattorneysblog.com, and follow Whitney on Twitter at @WhitneyCGibson.

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  • Amanda

    Online brand and reputation attacks are the worst types of attacks businesses face because once complaints have been voiced over social media, they are available for the entire online world to read and perceive. It’s truly crazy how just one attack over social media can completely alter many consumer opinions about a brand or company and permanently damage its reputation. I definitely agree with the article that attacks on online brands should be responded to, but the credibility of the attacker and the integrity of the complaint must be evaluated first. In my Social Media Marketing class, we discussed how important it is for companies to be aware of what is being said about them and their brand. I believe that companies need to be proactive about maintaing their online presence by identifying negative feedback and responding to credible posts before actual harm is done.