A “typical” claim of defamation in my daily work

I’ll start this with a caveat of “every time something like this comes into the site, it’s taken very seriously and investigated fully” so I don’t want anyone to think that we treat these things as frivolous or an unnecessary use of our time.  I however am making light of the sorts of things we get for comedic value, because this is my fraking blog and I’ll write what I want :p).  But, I can assure you, I have had all of these interactions many times, obviously in a much more professional manner.

So here’s a breakdown of the general in’s and outs of what happens when someone submits a legal complaint on the grounds of defamation to Boards.ie.

“I Googled my business – JoeBloggsAcme Ltd – and found some terribly damaging comments made about my business that have cost me 6 months of sleep and were absolutely definitely made by my competitors – I’m certain of this despite the fact that I can’t see their IP address or their sign-up details and I’m completely ignoring the fact that it says they’ve been a member of your site for 6 years and have several thousand posts to their name.”

We reply with a “Please give us the link to the content in question and we’ll be more than happy to investigate it.”

“Just Google JoeBloggsAcme and you’ll find it.”

“No, we won’t, you need to point out to us specifically where this is, Google personalises search results based on your search history.”

“I don’t understand all these technical questions, you’re the internet, you do it.”

“You can just copy the address from the bar in your web browser and paste it into this email and send it to us.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, I don’t know how you expect people to answer all this technical jargon.”

“Is there a young person in your office who knows how to computer?”

“I’ll get my nephew, he made our website three years ago.”

A day or two later, we’ll get an email with a link to a page somewhere on Boards.  For reference and for an immediate investigation, you can link to a specific post by right clicking and copying the address of the link on the post number that appears on the top right corner of every individual post.

“We’ve reviewed the thread in question, we can’t see anything defamatory on that page nor any mention of your business.”

“It’s right there, look at it!”

“This is the link you sent us, can you please tell us what post number it is?  We can’t see it.”

“Oh, that’s not the right one at all, look, just Google it, you’re wasting my time now, I’m going to be talking to my solicitor tomorrow if you don’t sort this out.”

“We have made several requests for you to send us the link to the post you have a problem with, however, if you can’t provide it, maybe your solicitor can, please have them email us or write to us directly, we’ll be happy to deal with them.”

At this stage we’ll either get a solicitor’s letter within a week or they’ll realise that they can save themselves €100+ by simply doing what we’ve asked and letting us investigate the thing for them.

So, we investigate.  If a comment is made about JoeBloggsAcme Ltd that is defamatory, then we immediately take it down.  This could be something like “JoeBloggsAcme Ltd sells fake goods” or “JoeBloggsAcme Ltd doesn’t pay it’s staff minimum wage” or any number of things.

But what if it’s true?

In a lot of ways, and it pains me to say this, I don’t care; I can’t afford to.  Boards.ie cannot afford to go to court on the off chance something someone said on the site said might be true or false.  That’s the reality of how the law works.  It’s a gag order that can be wielded with impunity and more or less without any fear of reprisal.  Many times I asked people if they’re prepared to go to court and defend their statement and almost every time they’ve freaked and said not a chance and that’s that.  If the people who make these statements aren’t prepared to stand by them, then we certainly can’t.

So the statements get deleted, an email gets sent to the person who made the complaint thanking them for bringing it to our attention (because we genuinely and sincerely have no interest in the site being a platform for defamation) and a note to say that they’re welcome to get in touch with us any time again in the future should they need to.

I can only think of a few exceptions to this when I’ve asked the person involved  if they can show that their statements are true and they have been able to show me where they successfully took the company involved to court and had a judgement awarded in their favour.  They were even able to link me directly to where the case’s results.  In those cases an email gets sent saying “Sorry, but this is true, here’s the proof, we’re not taking it down but we’ll gladly post a statement on your behalf” (actually, any company reading that wants to do this, we’re only too happy to help – this is good for you, it’s good for us and most importantly, it’s good for our members).

There are some variations on the themes above – of particular note are the times when people (and most often a solicitor) will demand the identities of the people who made these posts.  This is not possible for many reasons but mostly:

  1. We have no idea, all you’re required to give Boards.ie to sign up is an email address, a password and of course, a username.

I will talk about the Data Protection act at another time.  It’s a really good law and it’s being handled by an exceptional team in the office of the Data Commissioner.

So there you are, a little insight into the process.  It’s far from complete and there are many more things that can and will happen on any given case.  As I said at the start of this post, we really do take them all extremely seriously, but please allow me to have a little bit of fun when talking about it.

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