It is highly unregulated, however, which can be a problem. The way the internet operates is mainly based on the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which states that certain popular websites are immune from civil lawsuits resulting from content posted by third parties. Additionally, some of those websites are able to restrict access, edit, and remove third-party content at their discretion as well.
While good on paper, the CDA has actually caused the formation of websites that ask people to pay them in order for the negative material to erased. And, at the same time, it has given rise to websites that purposefully post false and negative information about individuals in an effort to encourage them to make those payments.
Tricks of the Trade
Numerous review websites now exist that do not enable people to get to know individuals or businesses but to make money instead. For instance:
- 1st website alters complaints and reviews to make them look more favorable – for a payment
- 2nd website has paid monitoring and brand advocacy programs in place.
- 3rd website offers an “independent arbitration” service, meaning that those accused of cheating on their partners need to pay to have their information removed.
- 4th website offers to have criminal records expunged from the internet for a certain fee.
How Can They Do That?
It can appear very unfair to have to pay a business to remove negative information. In fact, some people claim that it is completely illegal and is, in fact, a form of extortion. However, in a recent lawsuit against Yelp!, Inc, it was once again affirmed that it is in fact completely legal to do this.
There are numerous loopholes that websites rely on, however. Websites do not say that they will post negative content for payment. Rather, they inform someone that the content is there and ask if they would like to remove it.
Mugshots.com is a clear example of what NOT to do. Read more.
What They Cannot Do – Internet Defamation, Slander, and Libel
Certain things are illegal online:
Defamation, which means that a false negative statement is made about you that harms your reputation. It includes both slander and libel.
- Libel, which is defamation posted online, often through blog posts, ratings, reviews, bulletin board posts, comments, and web pages
- Slander, which is spoken defamation on audio files, podcasts, or transcribed videos.
It is not unheard of for websites that request payment to have negative information removed, to come up with false and untruthful information. This constitutes defamation. They feel comfortable doing so, however, because they know how difficult it is for you to prove defamation. It is your responsibility to show that:
The statement is false and that it is a representation of fact, rather than opinion. Only facts are true, whereas opinions are not.
- The statement has harmed or can harm your reputation.
- The statement was made without adequate research or due diligence into its truthfulness. Essentially, you must be able to provide that it was willfully shared with full knowledge of it being a false statement.
Perhaps the greatest loophole, therefore, and the reason why so many companies think nothing of posting negative and/or untruthful things about individuals, is because they know there is very little you will do. Usually, the payment they require for the removal of that information will be far less than the legal fees involved with taking legal action for defamation, libel, or slander, and there are no guarantees that you will win the case because of the complexities involved. Hiring an online reputation management company can improve your positive awareness online.