Bottling the Acid

March 29, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | LIFE | 1 Comment |

"Wait till you hear what THIS says.." (artist: G. Cades circle)

(3 ways to cope with “flaming” online)

The ‘interweb thingey’ has turned us all into publishers. Unfortunately, much material published on the world wide web desperately needs decent editing. Furthermore, the relative anonymity of social media platforms can attract the kind of thuggish commentary more suited to the Stanford Prison Experiment.

For example, let’s say a website offering goods or services has a list of Google Reviews.  People like ‘social proof’ so these reviews are read as a priority, and if enough positive feedback is on display, it may lead to a decision to click-and-buy.

But what if you get a no-star rant from an unhappy customer?  A competitor posing as an unhappy customer? Or a spot of malicious hate-speech on your Facebook page, blog or online forum?


Large companies have their expert crisis managers.  Individuals have to formulate their own responses, making the best call they can in the individual circumstances.  The general view is that an adverse review should not be deleted, ignored, or worse, answered by a snide or profane riposte. Remember, we often push ‘send’ in haste, anger, suspicion or under a misunderstanding, so the best way to respond (and at least honour the person taking the time to voice a complaint) is with a measured, rational, substantive answer.

What about defamation or malicious falsehoods online?  That is trickier.  These are often anonymous. Spurned lovers, business rivals, friends fallen out, can use a cheap, accessible and universal noticeboard to defame and punish with their poison-pen cursors.


Reputable servers, though they adopt a formal position of taking no responsibility for content posted through their service, will in fact remove inappropriate posts when a complaint arises.  Some time back Google announced an active policy of deleting so-called “revenge porn” and several servers are expected to follow suit.

Internet search-engine providers often rely on the innocent dissemination defence.  They argue by analogy that they are merely ‘noticeboards’ and can’t be liable for notices ‘pinned’ to the board.  But in a 1937 English case, a golf club secretary and the club’s owner, in charge of the club’s noticeboard, failed to remove an anonymous poem pinned to the board that was defamatory of a member, after it had been brought to their attention, and were held to be liable as secondary publishers because they allowed it to stay on the notice board, obviously knowing it would be read.

The courts have been moving towards a theory of liability for internet search companies once a defamatory post accessed via the search-engine’s website has been brought to their notice.  If the search-engine company, on proper notice, does not then remove the offending material in a reasonable time, it can be treated as a ‘secondary publisher’ and liable in defamation for damages. But prevention is much better than cure – send a nice email to the host explaining why the material is improper. You will be taken seriously and the offending material may be removed.


Finally, if you cop someone giving you, your publication or your business a hammering, bear in mind that such a voice can be drowned out by more positive feedback posted on your site.  Don’t panic. The dissenting, lone, idiosyncratic, flaming brickbat may be the odd man out, giving verisimilitude to your gold star bouquets.

"I'm hitting 'SEND'..." (Giant with the Flaming Sword by John Charles Dollman)

“I’m hitting ‘SEND’…” (Giant with the Flaming Sword by John Charles Dollman)



1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Canna Lily

    May 1, 2017

    "Screw You"

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