What to do when your company gets attacked online

Oh that silly Charles Barkley

We see it in the news more and more every day. Companies and individuals are getting attacked online. There are entire websites and public service announcements dedicated to stopping cyberbullies. There is no shortage of weirdos in the world. If you’re attacked online it’s natural to want to react to this type of behavior, but quite often a reaction makes things worse. Most attacks shouldn’t be dignified with a response . . . ever.

Oh that silly Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley impersonates Jennifer Hudson?

If you are being attacked online try the following steps:

Stay calm.

Just because you are seeing something negative about your company online doesn’t mean anyone else has (yet). The web is a big ol’ place. An attack can feel invisible in nature. Rest assured the attack is not invisible. Everything we do online leaves a trace. Servers have logs, emails have headers, even tweets leave a trace. Anonymous email accounts that are being misused can be tracked down by their respective service(s). No email host wants to be responsible for unauthorized individuals misusing the service. Even if you feel like your enemy is coming out of nowhere – they’re not. You’d be surprised how often a menacing online persona can actually be a sad, disturbed and/or lonely individual hiding in a dark corner somewhere. (Take a minute to laugh at them.)

Take time to fully understand the medium and methods of attack, then document it.

It could be anything from an individual on Twitter saying negative things, to a bunch of negative restaurant reviews might suddenly pop up. Make a list of the sites and services that are hosting the offensive content. Some examples would be citysearch, yellowpages, google reviews, yelp, Twitter, or Facebook. Take screenshots to document exactly what you are seeing, it can be valuable later on.  Remember to record the times and dates of the snapshots.

Do NOT Respond.

For example, if you are running a successful hair salon, you can easily let one bad customer review go. It’s tempting to fight, but the returns are diminishing. Do not contact the client yourself unless it’s to offer reparations, do not ask them to remove it or threaten to sue them. It needs to be the individuals idea to remove a negative review. If you do a great job and your clients are happy, the majority of reviews will reflect this fact. Resist the urge to immediately respond to any attacks online, it will often backfire. If it’s a good idea today then it will be a great idea tomorrow after you’ve slept on it.

Familiarize yourself with each site’s specific rules as well as any applicable state laws.

Every major social network has policies in place to protect against impersonation, as do many review sites. Review sites like Yelp or Google will allow you to flag and then remove overly personal or inflammatory language. There are often controls in place to allow you to remedy a situation where you are being bullied. It may take a day or two to get a response, but keep following up.

I’m not an attorney, and as such, I’m not trying to give legal advice in any way here. I have seen a lot happening in the news. As far as applicable state laws, it’s becoming more common to see legislation put in place specifically for online protection. For example, if you happen to live in the state of California, a new impersonation law went into effect on January 1, 2012. This law states that any individual who assumes the identity of another person to intentionally harm, intimidate, bully, threaten or defraud them may be charged with a misdemeanor in California. Depending on what you or your company’s situation is, a quick call to an attorney might make sense. The attorney can tell you what can be done under the law, even if you are not certain about who is attacking you.

You are not alone.

I hope this helps! This blog post was inspired by a friend who saw a slew of negative reviews online that appeared practically overnight. I am happy to report that she was able to trace the reviews down to a disgruntled former employee and everything has since been removed. Woohoo!