Internet defamation attorneys Brian A. Hall and Enrico Schaefer of Traverse Legal, PLC discuss what doctors, lawyers and other professionals should do if someone says or posts something derogatory about them or their business online.
1. Defamation against Doctors and other professionals is rampant. There is a balance between having a thick skin and protecting you on-line reputation.
2. Blog posts, comments and doctor review web sites make posting false information as easy as hitting "submit"
3. A false statement of fact - internet defamation - can cost a doctor or physician big time. A professional's prime asset is their reputation.
4. Every doctor should be doing the following things to protect against internet libel and defamation.
a. Make sure you register domain names and social media vanity URLs incorporating the doctor's name, and variations.
b. Monitor the internet for problems. Top web sites and doctor rating sites for defamation on the internet include Yelp, ComplaintsBoard, RipOffReport, Google Places listing, DoctorScorecard.com, angieslist.com, ratemds.com, vitals.com, haelthgrades.com
c. Develop a strategy to deal with false allegations about physicians when problems arise. An internet lawyer knows how to deal with these problems, strategies for having content removed, posts deleted and potentially removed from the search engines such as Google Yahoo and Bing.
Announcer: Welcome to Internet Defamation Law Radio. Internet defamation is as easy to perpetuate as a blog post or forum comment. Your online reputation is measured by the website’s return as Google search results. Do you know what people are saying in writing about you? This program is brought to you by Traverse Defamation Law. Internet lawyers with frontline experience handling Internet Defamation and Internet Libel lawsuits for clients like you.
Enrico Schaefer: This is Enrico Schaefer. I’m an attorney with Traverse Legal, PLC, specializing in defamation law and internet law, and especially online defamation. I’ll be your co-host today. Today, we also have my partner, Attorney Brian A. Hall, an attorney also specializing in internet law issues and online libel and defamation. How are you doing today, Brian?
Brian A. Hall: Doing well, Enrico. How are you?
Enrico Schaefer: I’m doing great. Today, we’re going to be talking about doctor defamation, taking down internet libel, and protecting a physician’s reputation. Defamation against doctors, Brian, and other professionals is rampant. We get as many calls on this issue as any other internet law topic. And there is a balance for physicians between having a thick skin and being able to take it, and, of course, protecting your online reputation. How big of a problem do you think this is on the internet?
Brian A. Hall: It’s absolutely huge and the reality is all of these start the same way. It’s either a blog post, a comment, or some doctor review site that makes posting false information as easy as hitting submit, and that’s exactly what’s happening. Be it a disgruntled patient, a competitor that doesn’t like the particular doctor or physician, it doesn’t matter. They get online and they post things that are either in a comment, a blog, whatever it might be, that’s defaming that doctor. Really, what we get are the calls that say, is this defamation or not? And it’s our job as internet defamation attorneys to determine whether or not it is, in fact, internet defamation.
Enrico Schaefer: Yeah, let’s talk about that a little bit because there’s a lot of confusion on what is libel, what is defamation, and keep in mind that with libel and slander, libel is the written form of defamation, and slander is the spoken form of defamation. You cannot slander someone on the internet unless, of course, it’s in a recording like we’re doing here today. Typically, we’re talking about internet libel, that form of defamation. Defamation is a false statement of fact that tends to diminish or demean a person’s reputation. The key issue that we always end up analyzing right out of the gate is whether the comment, the blog post, or the review a statement of fact or a statement of opinion? There is a lot of gray area here, but let me give you an example, Brian.
If I’m looking at you across the table and I say to someone in a blog post, Brian is sitting across the table right now, and he is wearing a blue shirt, but in fact, you’re wearing a yellow shirt, that’s clearly a false statement of fact. Now, it’s not defamatory because it doesn’t diminish your reputation, it doesn’t demean you, but it’s a false statement of fact. If you’re sitting across the table from me and I say that Brian Hall is a person who has stolen goods from the local market, and either I have no information to say that’s true or I am reckless in making that statement, or I know it’s a false statement of fact, I can prove it true or false, then I have, in fact, defamed you. So, you need these two different parts. You need it to be false statement of fact. You need it to diminish your reputation. If it’s a statement of opinion, then it is not actionable, it’s not going to create liability and you cannot litigate that issue. So, if I say, I don’t think that Brain Hall is a very good tennis player. In fact, I think he sucks. Then, that’s a statement of opinion and that’s not going to be actionable. So, that’s the distinction.
Brian, what is it that every doctor should be doing in order to protect themselves against internet libel and online defamation?
Brian A. Hall: That’s a great question, Enrico, and I think it’s the job of internet attorneys and online defamation attorneys like both of us to educate these doctors and physicians that there are ways to at least mitigate the likelihood of them being the victim of online defamation. There are really three things that come to mind. The first is that they should make sure that they’re registering domain names and social media vanity URLs that incorporate that doctor’s name, and even variations of it. So, if a doctor has a practice, they should register a domain name for their practice. They should register a domain name for the doctor’s name itself. Those types of things will help prevent somebody from putting up a website that is arguably defamation and would force them to spend money to determine whether or not, in fact, it is defamation. The second thing that they could be doing is monitoring the internet for problems. It sounds simple, but there are several sites that doctors need to be aware of in order to determine whether or not there are statements of fact out there that would qualify as defamation. Some of them, off the top of my head, are Yelp, Complaints Board, Ripoff Report, even Google Places listings. DoctorScorecard.com, Angieslist.com, RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, and HealthGrades.com are probably the most popular sites where patients or others can make comments about doctors and particular physician’s practice. So, it’s important for the doctors to log into Google and perform a search for their name, do a search for the doctor or physician’s practice, and see what’s being said about them. In reality, Enrico, if they don’t know what’s out there, they have no opportunity to stop it.
Enrico Schaefer: And it’s much harder to fix it later, rather than sooner. That is to say, you need to be on top of these problems as they occur because it gets much more difficult to deal with them as time goes on.
Brian A. Hall: That’s a great point. What we try and do is work with doctors and physicians to help them develop a strategy to deal with false allegations about them. So, if a problem does arise, we’re in a better position to tell them how to address it, but at the same time, it’s prospectively looking for information so that you can nip it in the bud as soon as possible. And it’s really internet lawyers like you and I, that know how to deal with these problems and offer strategies for having either the content removed, post deleted or the potentially harmful information removed from search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Enrico Schaefer: Yeah, that’s great stuff, Brian. It really is the type of thing that doctors and physicians and lawyers and other professionals need to stay on top of because it can affect not only your professional reputation and your revenue, but also your family life, your neighborhood, your friends, your community standing. No one wants to see a defamatory statement come back on the first page of search results when their son’s new friend down the street parents does a Google search for the dad’s name.
Brian A. Hall: Exactly.
Enrico Schaefer: Okay, Brian. Great talking to you today and that’s it for defamation law radio.
Brian A. Hall: Thanks, Enrico.