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Are You Ready for the Attack? Online Brand and Reputation Protection

It starts with an inaccurate, possibly fake, online review. Then a post appears on a consumer complaint forum. Suddenly, there is a surge of false postings about your company on social media sites. Invariably, these anonymous postings appear prominently in search engine results, including Google. If you haven’t implemented proactive monitoring for attacks and are not prepared to counter them, otherwise controllable threats could balloon rapidly into full-scale crises.

The internet and related technological developments provide valuable platforms for the open exchange of information and ideas. However, the internet is equally available to unscrupulous individuals and bad actors disguised as bona fide consumers. Although the internet is full of false and misleading information, consumers still rely on internet reviews before making purchasing decisions. A recent survey found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. This underscores the importance of identifying and tackling online risks to a company’s brand and reputation.

There are certain steps that should be considered when an online attack occurs:

  • Assess the damage and establish a strategy. It is critical to assess the damage from an attack first and not just respond reflexively. There is no effective one-size-fits-all approach. A thoughtful and comprehensive strategy must be crafted to address the specific issues and challenges.
  • Protect intellectual property. Online attacks may implicate copyright, trademark, trade secrets, counterfeiting, false advertising, and other intellectual property. When an attack does involve intellectual property, federal and state laws may provide expedited and efficient remedies.
  • Identify defamatory and other unlawful content. Online attacks usually include defamatory and other unlawful content. Before initiating litigation or seeking other remedies, the unlawful content must be identified. This will allow a company to consider its available claims and the different venues where it could assert those claims.
  • Identify the sources. Typical sources of online attacks are disgruntled employees, dissatisfied customers, unscrupulous competitors, and other bad actors. While the First Amendment protects certain types of anonymous speech, it does not protect individuals, groups, or organizations from making threatening, defamatory, or other unlawful comments. It is often appropriate to deploy various legal tools to reveal the sources of online attacks. This is an important step to stop an attack.
  • Seek removal of unlawful content. State and federal laws dealing with intellectual property rights, unfair competition, and defamation provide for the removal of such materials.  Many websites and social media platforms also will remove unlawful content under certain conditions. Seeking the removal of this content may require a cease-and-desist letter, subpoena, initiation of a lawsuit and request for a court order, or other dispute resolution procedures.
  • Implement curative and preventative measures.  Even if an attack is stopped and content is removed, remnants of this content will remain online. Additional steps must be taken to identify and address these sources. In addition, preventative measures must be implemented to prevent reoccurrences and future attacks. Such measures may include gaining control over certain internet domains, increasing social media presence, and generating fresh marketing and advertising content.

The nature and prominence of the internet requires companies to monitor their online presence, manage their brands and reputations, and remain vigilant for potential attacks. When these attacks occur—which they do with increasing frequency—the response must be informed, proactive and strategic.

Related topics: Intellectual Property, Retail, Risk Management