Employer Strategies to Respond to “Cybersmears”, Part-2

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The previous news posting introduced the concept of cypersmearing, which is defined as employees’ unidentified online postings of libelous, harassing or humiliating comments about their employer or co-workers. Employers have three strategies and various methods to address this issue. This posting presents the second of those strategies.

The second-stage strategy requires different methods to lessen the negative effects of the cypersmear. Employers can start by requesting the people who control the Web site or blog where the cypersmear appears to delete it, but don’t expect the site owner to reveal the cypersmearer’s name, voluntarily. Some Internet service companies have the software to move the cypersmear posting to a much lower search position, so it is less likely to be seen. Employers can also use the “Sherlock Holmes” method to “deduce” the identity of the cypersmear. By studying the contents, language and the timing of the cypersmear, an employer could, through the process of elimination, narrow the list of possible perpetrators. Employers have the right to interview the employees on that list and, depending on what is discovered, can terminate the cypersmearer for cause or if he or she is an “at will” employee. If employers have clearly stated policies in their employee handbooks that include the monitoring of employees’ use of the company’s computer system, then those employers can identify cypersymearers if they wrote and posted the blog through the system.

Some employers may be tempted to respond online to the cypersmearer, as the most obvious defensive method, but that has its downsides. The smearer may add more adverse comments and place them on many more Web sites. An employer’s angry or emotional response could also be considered illegal retaliation. Legal counsel is required, so employers understand how to navigate the subtle court rulings about this specific response method.

A smarter method is to respond to the comments, but only internally to all employees, stating in a letter or email and/or staff meeting that a cypersmear has been detected and that person has made false accusations and/or comments that the company condemns. Under these circumstances, the cypersmear becomes a real-life training opportunity.

There are other response methods that employers should never consider. Although an employer has a right to search the contents of an employee’s work computer; the employer can’t use that access to look for the username and password of the Web site or blog where the cypersmear was posted, and then delete the offensive posting. That action could result in a lawsuit over privacy rights. Another dangerous method is to use the information discovered during the monitoring of employees’ e-mail and Internet use, if the employer hasn’t stated in the employee handbook that he or she can that action. Employers should also be careful about asking third-party technology service providers for employees’ electronic communications.

Read the next scheduled news posting for the third-stage strategy to combat cypersmearing.

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