Defamation online is a tricky field to navigate

Social media has its benefits but its challenges too, so tread carefully to avoid defamation.

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Social media poses enormous value for building and communicating a personal brand. It has brought me business and helped me develop a reputation that has opened many doors. But what happens when social media and the internet work against you? Let’s take a look at the opposite effect it can have when a reputation is defamed and intentionally attacked by someone who is disgruntled.

My brother, for example, has been facing a difficult situation – one that has worsened over time. Some years ago when he was living in Tokyo in Japan, he entered into a business deal, raising funds from an investor, that later went sour. The investor lost his money, the business liquidated and everyone involved was negatively affected. Unsurprisingly the investor was angry, I mean who wouldn’t be? However, the investors then created a website using my brother’s name as the domain and published factually incorrect allegations with the intent to tarnish his reputation.

What would you do if somebody set out to dismantle a reputation you’ve worked so hard to create? The laws in the UAE are extremely strict on these issues and unlike many countries where defamation is a civil case, in the UAE it is a criminal matter and hence prosecution often results in jail time or deportation for expats. In fact you need permission to photograph or video anyone so, given the loose nature of social media, people must be very careful when posting photos that contain others.

Posters may wrongly assume that if the statements they are making about someone are true, then this indemnifies them from criminal prosecution. However, the focus in the UAE is on whether the statements caused loss of reputation rather than the validity of the statements.

Where the issues get complex is when we include the inherently international nature of the web, where people situated in different countries publish, comment or post content about you that may radically harm your business reputation and be visible to a global audience. Yet if the person isn’t present locally to take legal action to stop this, and they may never be, what can you do?

In the case of my brother, the person committing this defamation is in Japan, a country he no longer resides in. While the internet is considered international and therefore it can be considered an offence in whichever law it applies to across the world, he would have to file a case in Japan which would be costly, require translation to file and take time.

When we post social media content, people around the world can comment negative, harmful and untrue things and taking legal action across borders is a headache and costly. Thankfully most social media platforms have a policy against such content and will work with you to remove it and ban users who break these policies. Removing websites can be more difficult, but it is possible by contacting the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers with a takedown letter explaining the reasons; you can also approach search engines directly to remove content.

This doesn’t stop people from publishing harmful information in the first instance and it might happen without you realising for some time. It might, for example, be picked up when you are engaged in important business and it is found in a background check on you. This could be highly embarrassing and hard to explain and could potentially damage you financially. Therefore, I recommend continuously checking search engines and social sites for statements, including your name, to ensure you know about it soon enough to take action.

Bloggers and social media users should also be highly careful of the content they post and be aware of the laws surrounding social media content. What is generally accepted globally may not be in the UAE. And while it may seem like the norm, because everyone is doing it and it’s not a problem, it never is.

Until it is.

Paris Norriss is an entrepreneur and partner in Coba Education, which provides educators to schools and institutes

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