The Internet is a fascinating place that is opening up new forms
of social interaction, activities, and organization of information.
Social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace
are creating revolutionary ways to interact with people all over
the world. In addition, websites such as Amazon, Yelp, and Angie's
List allow people to post online reviews of businesses of all
types. The explosive growth in these types of activities in the
last few years is truly amazing.
These undertakings, however, have a dangerous element. Blogs and
postings of a negative nature (even if they are true) can result in
unpleasant and costly lawsuits against the author. Note that it may
still take time before there is a good body of caselaw to support
freedom of speech online in blogs, forums, and social media
publishing sites. And remember that freedom of speech does not mean
you can say anything you want anywhere. Freedom of speech implies
responsibility; its use should generally be for the benefit of the
greater good. So the following are some risk management tips to
consider before posting or blogging negative comments on the
- Check your facts carefully and thoroughly document your
sources. Truth is a complete defense in a libel case, although you
still may run into expensive legal bills defending yourself. If you
find that your facts are incorrect, remove the inaccurate content
and consider issuing a correction or retraction.
- If you purchase a product online and have an unpleasant
experience with the seller, it might be wise not to post a negative
comment or rating on the website. If you do post an adverse
comment, be sure that it is objectively written, based on solid
facts concerning your own direct experience, and not written in an
- If you are a blog master and someone is posting false and
incendiary statements on your site, remember that you may be held
liable for these remarks since you are the "publisher."
- Seek protection for your rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a
not-for-profit organization, has a mission to safeguard the rights
of those who use digital media and to provide legal guides to
bloggers both large and small. It also offers helpful ideas to
those bloggers and online posters to avoid libel suits.
- Make certain your homeowners policy includes a personal injury
endorsement to cover libel and slander suits. Most standard
insurance company policy forms do not provide this automatically,
and it can be added for a small additional premium. Also, consider
buying a personal umbrella policy, which generally provides broader
personal injury coverage.
- If your blog is a money-maker, look into business liability
coverage since the typical homeowners policy contains numerous
business-related exclusions and restrictions. If you operate a
small home-based business in conjunction with your blog or online
business, consider requesting that a home-based business
endorsement be added to your homeowners policy.
International Risk Management Institute, Inc.