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Advice on how to deal with false allegations on social media

Love it or hate it, social media can boost your business, help you engage with a wider audience and grow your fanbase.

But what do you do if you become the victim of false allegations or misinformation?

James Staton, partner, gives some advice for anyone facing a malicious social media campaign:

"The power of social media is such that by 2019 there are expected to be 2.7 billion social network-users around the globe. For the most part, it is a good thing, enabling us to communicate with customers and friends quickly and easily, and helping us to share information and stay ahead of the game."

However, what if the tool you hoped would boost your business becomes a weapon with which to destroy you and your reputation?

We are seeing more and more cases arising where businesses, schools and organisations are forced to take legal action to halt a campaign of online abuse.

However, taking the right action quickly, in the right way, can make a big difference, and, ultimately, result in all defamatory posts being removed.

Often a letter threatening legal proceedings, along with evidence of our client’s case, is all it takes to put an end to the onslaught. Very occasionally, court action is required.

If you, or your business, are subjected to abuse or accusations on social media, you should seek advice straight away, before the small spark of criticism rapidly turns into a blaze of false representation, misinformation and defamation.

If you do fall victim to people making up allegations or putting a damaging slant on something that is going to seriously harm your business or its reputation, then you can sue for defamation or malicious falsehood.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Take action immediately – do not wait to see if the storm will blow over
  • Capture incriminating evidence by taking a screen shot/picture of the posts
  • Continue to capture defamatory remarks as they are added to the thread
  • Quickly try to identify the original source of the allegations
  • Do not respond to the claims – it could only serve to add fuel to the fire
  • Seek legal advice, providing your solicitor with the evidence

When solicitors first write to the person posting the accusations, it is helpful if they can attach an actual copy of the posts, which is why it is so important you capture evidence.

Our litigation team has recently acted for an academy where a parent was sending emails and posting claims on Facebook, which became very wearing for staff.

In the end, we threatened court proceedings and the parent was denied access into the school grounds, although the children continued to attend the school.

Acting quickly can also be critical. We acted for a client who provides entertainers, such as DJs, to cruise ships. A DJ had lost his job for posting abusive comments about a passenger on social media. Having had his contract terminated, the DJ created a false Facebook persona and made allegations that another entertainer on the ship had raped a passenger and that the incident had been covered up because of the relationship between the cruise director and the accused DJ.

The posts, which included photographs of the alleged rapist and cruise director, generated a social media frenzy.

The allegations were found to be entirely false; there had been no rape and no cover-up.

Within three hours of us receiving instructions, we had dispatched a letter by email to the former DJ threatening him with proceedings for an injunction and damages based on malicious falsehood and defamation.

Although he responded to say that it was not him, within minutes of the email being sent, the Facebook page was deleted, and all social media comment removed.

Social media is here to stay and brings huge benefits, but it does have a downside, so it’s worth having a response plan in place should the worst happen, and you need to take legal action.

Just as social media can get out of hand quickly, a solicitor can act just as promptly to help save your reputation.

For further advice contact James Staton on 01274 306000 or email JamesStaton@schofieldsweeney.co.uk

About the Author

James Staton

Partner

James is a Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution team and primarily handles commercial…

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