Derigan Silver stated, “Information tends to lurk in the dark corners of the Internet for years and years” (Silver, Derigan. Social Media and the Law). The evolution of digital media has caused many businesses to thrive, but it has also caused some individual reputations to falter. Since certain aspects can never be completely erased from social media or the Internet, content written by a reporter on a site can truly last forever. An element of concern is that accusations or descriptions don’t have to be proven fact before the resulting negative connotations of a situation are broadcast to millions. With one hashtag, a reputation can be ruined.
Let’s analyze the effects of persuasion in relation to digital content and messaging. Persuasion can be a key element to your profession as a public relations practitioner, but can also be a detriment to an organization or individual if the content used to persuade an audience is defamatory. Through the social media world the art of persuasion can fall on altruistic needs, such as a man being motivated to get a checkup to protect his family more than to protect himself. It can also be focused on fear appeals. Regardless of the persuasion method used, it can have a detrimental effect when the content provided is not true.
Since the art of persuasion is so prevalent on social media due to the availability of a broader audience, organizations have found creative ways to combat it. Daxton Stewart, author of Social Media and the Law, described the impact of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Daxton illustrates, “The purpose of a SLAPP suit is not necessarily to win damages. Rather, the goal is to discourage criticism because libel suits can be time-consuming and costly” (Daxton, Stewart). He goes on to mention examples of SLAPP lawsuits that have occurred in recent years. “In one case, Justin Kurtz, a student at Western Michigan, was sued for $750,000 by a towing company after he created a Facebook page called “Kalamazoo Residents Against T & J Towing.” (Daxton, Stewart). Although this method to combat defamation has been used countless times, 29 states have passed anti-SLAPP laws in recent years. Citizens can also counter sue, so this is not a viable defense against defamation.
The motivation to fight against defamation will be an on-going battle if more detailed laws are not passed involving defamation and digital media. As digital platforms evolve, the law must play catch up. Even other nations are witnessing digital media being the new tool utilized to defame individuals. Roy Greenslade from The Guardian Online stated, “There has been a 23% rise in the number of reported defamation cases in the UK over the past year, up from 70 to 86, according to research by Thomson Reuters. The growth in the number of reported defamation cases is partly due to a sharp rise in claims brought over defamatory material published through social media and websites. In the last year alone the number of cases relating to new media, such as internet-only news services, social media, text messages and online review sites, has more than quadrupled, rising from six to 26.” (Greenslade, Roy. 23% increase in defamation actions as social media claims rise).
"The increase in claims arising from content on social media and websites reflects the growing impact and importance of new media compared with traditional news providers," said Keith Mathieson, head of media at City law firm RPC and a contributor to Thomson Reuters' practical law service. "Many of the new media cases are taken against the individuals responsible for the publications rather than companies such as Google or Twitter that host the material, as those companies are likely to have special hosting defenses, particularly if they take material down following an initial complaint” (Greenslade, Roy. 23% increase in defamation actions as social media claims rise).