Steps your organization can take to combat cybersmear
While Internet gossip is often embarrassing and sometimes ill-mannered, it has taken on a more disparaging and libelous role that companies cannot ignore. The Internet has become a powerful tool to publicize one’s dissatisfaction through a variety of online media formats, such as anonymous Internet forums, chat rooms, and bulletin or discussion boards.
Whatever the chosen format may be, any individual can instantly publish and disseminate misinformation, trade secrets, rumors, false allegations and uncivilized content against an organization to a global audience. This type of action is generally defined as “cybersmear.”
When on the receiving end of a cybersmear campaign, an organization must address a number of questions in countering a defense:
- Is the cybersmear a legitimate criticism?
- Are false and defamatory comments being stated?
- Are trade secrets or privileged information being disclosed?
- Is the source of the cybersmear a competitor, short-sellers manipulating stock, disgruntled employees or a watchdog organization?
- If the postings are libelous and defaming in nature, what are the pros and cons of bringing a lawsuit?
- Are there alternatives to litigation?
With cybersmear on the rise, organizations are taking various steps to identify, respond to and, if necessary, begin litigation proceedings against online perpetrators of the cybersmear attacks against them. In the majority of cybersmear cases, organizations are declaring war by using the court system to vindicate their names.
At the same time, it is incumbent upon organizations to try various methods in curtailing the dissemination of misinformation that jeopardizes their reputation and profitability, not only out of respect to their shareholder obligations but also to contribute to the public good.
Most organizations have a strong Internet presence and should use their websites and other online resources to address cybersmear attacks. The Internet can be a very effective communication channel for an organization to implement tactics and not let attacks go unchecked. Perhaps the best tactic is to have a prepared action plan to avoid a knee-jerk response—this is imperative to have in place before undergoing a crisis. Organizations should encourage employees to be proactive and alert the media relations department when cybersmear occurs.
Another tactic is to contact the webmaster of the attack site directly and ask for the misinformation to be removed. If these various public relations tactics are found to be ineffective, ultimately a decision has to be made to address the cybersmear with legal action. There are websites that reserve the right to remove unsuitable commentary. When monitoring blogs, an organization should determine if responding to inappropriate comments is necessary or not. More often than not, the offensive dialogue will not gain momentum.
Aside from employing these various internally managed courses of action, an organization may consider employing a company that specializes in suppressing and monitoring cybersmear. Because of cybersmear, the industry of cyberpatrol has given birth to a number of new companies. They provide a proactive approach not only in tracking cybersmear that can occur in social networking pages, message boards, blogs and portals, but determine how to create a public relations strategy in managing cybersmear. These Internet reputation monitoring services—such as PlanetFeedback, Cyveillance, ReputationDefender.com, eWatch or ReputationHawk.com—can offer an organization a public relations strategy to pursue over a litigious course of action.
Casarez, B.N. (2002). Dealing with cybersmear: How to protect your organization from online defamation. Public Relations Quarterly, 47(3), 40-45.
Sapovadia, V., Patel, K., & Patel, A. (2010, June). Cyber world: Potentials and risks: Exploit potentials and mitigate risks of cyber technology. Lambert Academic Publishing: Saarbrucken, Germany.