(DGIwire) — It’s impossible to overlook the benefits the Internet has given us over the past two decades. Email has made keeping in touch with loved ones and staying on top of business affairs faster and easier, and search engines and online databases bring limitless knowledge to our fingertips—and this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the Internet’s features. Most people use their web access positively and stick with their own social networking, emailing and research. Unfortunately, there are malicious people who take advantage of the Internet’s vulnerability — taking the “poison pen” to new heights — to post harmful, distasteful and downright slanderous material—all behind the anonymity of a keyboard.
According to a February 22, 2015 New York Times article, a former saleswoman at Zillow, a real estate website, sued her company in December 2014, describing X-rated messages from her male colleagues. Somehow the details of this lawsuit were leaked online and promptly “went viral,” meaning it circulated around the Internet, drawing hundreds of thousands of readers, which caused an instant public relations crisis for the company.
Zillow isn’t the only company to have its legal documents go public and cause a stir. Papers in a sexual harassment suit filed against Tinder, the dating app, circulated in a popular Buzzfeed post. More and more, the first court filings in these sexual harassment suits are winning wide readerships online before anyone sets foot in a courtroom. While this can be a boon for the plaintiff, as they find themselves with an unexpected virtual support group, it is ultimately a slippery slope for the legal profession. Now, anonymous online commenters are suddenly deciding a verdict before a case has been tried in court, and, more often than not, they don’t have all the facts. Panicky defendants are then left scrambling to clear their names from accusations that are sometimes unsubstantiated.
In the Times, Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard professor of Internet law, compared the practice to the old campus tactic of scrawling the names of alleged sexual offenders on women’s bathroom walls.
Try as we might to keep our private lives private, personal information will sometimes make its way into the public sphere. If you are the leader of a publicly traded company, having your “dirty laundry” appear online can be detrimental to both your personal reputation and the reputation of your company. Dian Griesel, Ph.D., President of DGI based in New York City and author, knows just how important it is to have a solid crisis management plan in place, in case the worst does happen.
“No one is immune from slanderous attacks on the Internet,” explains Griesel. “Even if your record is squeaky-clean, the internet is a free-for-all where unfortunately people can invent and distort information to their liking. Defending yourself against on-line libel is best accomplished by staying laser-focused on reputation management at all times is essential. The time to plan for an attack is long before it happens. Then, in the event of backlash, a plan is established and in place with spokespersons established, to make sure you and your company are fully prepared and can effectively neutralize or overcome the assault.”