The Streisand effect: Don’t harm your own business

The defendant, a Mr. Raphael who was a friend of Mr. Firsht and knew him professionally, had his identity revealed after Firsht’s lawyers sent a takedown notice to Facebook and obtained a Norwich Pharmacal order. The order required Facebook to disclose not only the registration data, but also details of the IP addresses and email addresses used when creating the profile.

The profile had in fact been created by someone at Mr. Raphael’s IP address. The same IP address was also used during this time to log in to two other Facebook accounts: Mr. Raphael’s account and Mr. Raphael’s girlfriend’s account. The fake account had only been signed into from two different computers at the IP address: Mr. Raphael’s computer and his girlfriend’s laptop. These facts were not refuted by Mr. Raphael.

The case gets even stranger. Mr. Raphael’s defence was that he did not create the profile. The evening the profile was created, him and his girlfriend had met a group of strangers at a bar, who returned home with them and spent the night. He said that one of them must have created the profile from his computer. He could not give an explanation of how someone else had been logging into the account from his IP address on the subsequent times the account had been accessed… which would have been after the profile-creating stranger had left his home. Instead he chose to rely on alibi evidence that he had not been at home on the other occasions when the Facebook profile had been accessed.

The judge couldn’t quite believe this story. He decided that Mr. Raphael had been the one to put up the false profile and the defamatory group. Although the profile was not visible for a considerable length of time – only 16 days – the judge ruled that due to the popularity and nature of Facebook, which targeted the material towards people who knew Mr. Firsht personally, the materials were particularly damaging.

The Judge also ruled that the allegations of dishonesty were serious enough to harm Mr. Firsht’s business and awarded £15,000 to Mr. Firsht personally, £5,000 to his business and an extra £2,000 for breach of his privacy. In this case, Mr. Raphael learned to his chagrin that comments made online can be costly and that lawyers can often get around the anonymity problem easily.

As for our client, he improved his operations to address the forum comments, but the unflattering material on Google remained. We used reverse search engine optimisation techniques to push the forum and blog off the first page of Google, and helped improve the business’ online presence.

Finally, the business registered on forums using its own name, and engaged with detractors by starting a positive dialogue. Acknowledging the concerns of the commenters, and explaining how the problems were caused by temporary blips, it was possible to turn a negative situation around. He listened, engaged and acted on feedback.

To protect your brand online, consider the tools at your disposal. Take care when choosing which you use and when you use it. You don’t want to cause more damage to your reputation when you are trying to rectify an adverse situation.

Shireen Smith is the founder of Azrights Solicitors, a law firm specialising in online brand and intellectual property issue, and the author of “Legally Branded.”

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