Whereas this person who repeats (stories about another) intentionally accelerates the spread of those (demeaning) remarks and is actually causing their dissemination far beyond the normal framework of “word will get out.” Therefore, if he repeats them purposefully, with intention to disclose and disseminate these remarks (that demean another Jew), this is actual Lashon Hara.

(Volume 1, page 393 in the Mazal Elul printed translation of Sefer Chafetz Chayim.

The second Kelal, 3rd halacha, in the Be’er Mayim Chayim)

Sue Scheff, an educational consultant in Florida, remembers clearly those weeks in 2003 when she found herself as the object of an internet smear campaign, instigated by a disgruntled client. In the course of the following three years, shewas emotionally and financially crippled. She had to close her office and was forced to hire a lawyer to sue the offender.

In Sept 2006 Scheff won a landmark case against the former client and was awarded $11.3 million in damages for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy.

But not everyone is so “lucky.” “Google/the Internet is unforgiving,” Scheff notes. “Social media can be a weapon… One click/post can literally ruin your career/business.”

Today, the author and family Internet safety advocate speaks out against Internet bullying and shares her story of the ruining of her reputation online. Scheff is the author of Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet (2009), and Shame Nation: The Global Epidemicof Online Hate (2017), where she discusses wisdom for digital survival.

With all the good Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter bring, also comes some danger. With one press of a button, people’s lives and reputations can be seriously damaged.

Scheff knows that all too well, which is why she says she is passionate about educating the public about social media behavior, and how to respond to hate speech online.

Scheff advises people to ask themselves before posting “is it necessary or is it sharing too much?”and cautions not to share a post in haste, driven purely by emotion. “Anger is fleeting – online is forever.”

When facing a negative business review, Scheff suggests to “take it offline as quickly as possible. Attempt to make it right if you can… Be constructive with your comments – not combative. Readers are watching.”

Unfortunately, Scheff’s story is by no means rare.

“Bullying is a reality, and it will be with us until the end of time,” notes Todd William, founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino, an online reputation management company in New York.

“Social media has contributed exponentially to the collateral damage, as cruelty can now go viral, and has permanence. Chat applications enable widespread sharing and commenting, content can be stored and saved indefinitely, and screen-grabbing ensures that even the most private text messages can go public in a fit of vengeance,” William states.

William has advised Fortune 500 companies, a member of Congress, and a member of the President’s Cabinet. William’s company has successfully lobbied Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms to remove damaging content.

In a similar vein, Alex Simon of Digital 86 in Nevada worked with a high-profile casino executive who was “going through a nasty divorce, and we believedhis soon-to-be ex-wife was leaking defamatory information about him to the media and online to smear his reputation.” The allegations were “not just unfounded” but “sensationalist.” Fortunately, Simon’s company was able to turn it around online, touting the man’s philanthropic and community work.

Curtis Boyd is the CEO of the Los Angeles based Future Solutions Media. He has been hired by over a thousand business owners to remedy scores of fictitious consumer reviews. The worst example Boyd encountered concerned a client who was a cosmetic surgeon. Someone posted fake “botched” photos of surgeries going horrendously wrong, that cost the surgeon months of lost business.

Finally, the review site Yelp agreed to have the photos removed and alerted their users about this fictitious reviewer.

“Consumers write lots of bad reviews online. What separates the real reviews from libel/slander ones, are real facts about their experience,” Boyd is careful to point out.

That’s not to say that social media is to be altogether avoided or condemned entirely; there is good and bad with everything. “Social media is an opportunity for self-expression, to exchange viewpoints, to challenge, and be challenged,” notes Alice Donoghue from the App Labb in Toronto.

But one should not becompletely naïve to the pitfalls. Donoghue states, “A hasty post on social media could tarnish someone’s reputation forever, invite harassment upon them from other internet users, cause PR scandals for companies, and create a snowball effect of more outrage.”

Damaging posts are made more alluring since “provocative, accusatory content is eye-catching, and feeds our desire for a little harmless drama. But is it really harmless? Not so much,” Donoghue says. “It’s often rewarded with likes, shares, and enthusiastic comments from like-minded individuals.”

Matt Pinsker is a criminal defense attorney in Richmond, Virginia and is an Adjunct Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is experienced in slander/libel issues, free speech, and legal issueson social media. Pinsker says that part of the problem with social media is that people say things online they would not say to others’ faces, because there are no consequences.

“Looking at criminology data as well as psychological experiments and atrocities done throughout history, we know very well what human beings are capable of when there are no repercussions,” Pinsker says.

That is coupled with anonymity, where the bully’s identity is not known to his own social circle, employers, or peers. If they “actedor behaved around real people the way they did online, they’d be very lonely,” Pinsker asserts.

While a hurt party may be able to pursue legal action, they may not get the payment they seek. Pinsker handled a case where a client lost “several thousands ofdollars a month” because of cruel online reviews. However, in this instance the defendant had no money to pay the recovery.

Before someone who is hurt decides to involve the law, Pinsker suggests that people report the offensive language to the social media platform. “Most responsible sites have policies which prohibit slander and defamation. This will hopefully result in the harmful posts being removed, and possibly the trolls getting blocked/banned.”

As for groups, and on many accounts, the user can block individuals. “You see this all the time on Twitter; you can block people for good reason, bad reason, or no reason,” Pinsker says.

And without the law getting too involved, he says that people can retain an attorney to send a “cease and desist letter,”that might be accompanied by a “demand” insisting the removal of the harmful materials. If the person does not comply, he can be threatened with legal action, Pinsker says.

But he cautions: “There is a risk to this, in that it might backfire. It could give more fodder to
the trolls.”

Eric Ridenour, a freelance social media manager in the Los Angeles area, suggests that where possible, people who have been badmouthed should first speak to the offender “not in anger, not in accusations, but with positivity and concern.” They should, he says, “get the person off the social media channel and into another medium, such as email, messenger, or even phone.” It is important to be empathetic and polite.

Ruth Carter is an Arizona-based social media attorney with Carter Law Firm and has worked on many internet defamation cases. She is the author of The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers.

“Unfortunately, many people post without thinking through what they want to say, and its implications. Once you release a post, you can never fully take it back. Even if you delete it, the post is still on a server somewhere, and you have no control over who copied or shared it before you deleted it” Carter says.

To avert any possible disaster, she says one should “assume everything you post will be seen by four people: your best friend, your worst enemy, your boss, and your mother. If you don’t want one of these people to see what you’re thinking about posting, don’t put it out there.”

Another piece of advice she offers is: “Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.”

The take home message is one of caution. If you are slandered or attacked via social media, you should take action, but without histrionics. Before you post yourself, take a breath and consider if you should really be posting what you wrote. Generations ago our holy sages instructed us to act with consideration and without anger. This is so relevant today, especially in the social media realm.