Doctor Defamation on the World Wide Web: What Every Doctor and Physician Needs to Understand

September 4th, 2012

Part of the dynamic I believe as an attorney who specializes in online and internet defamation of character, as well as doctor defamation is that in many instances it’s a blame the messenger situation. Where the physician is generating bills which are sometimes very onerous on patients who can’t pay them. That doctors are the ones who are providing their patients with bad news sometimes about their health condition. That not every patient can be cured, and therefore the blame the doctor phenomena will spit out this anger that is sometimes expressed on the internet. So doctors are sometimes subject to unfair and unwarranted commentary by their patients; and in some instances by other doctors who are posing as patients. Sometimes that commentary will involve false statements of fact about the doctor, which can meet the test of defamation of character under state law.

Welcome to Defamation Law Radio. Internet defamation of character is as easy to perpetuate as a blog post, Facebook update, rating submission, or a forum comment. Your online reputation is measured by the websites return as Google search results. Do you know what people are saying and writing about you?

Doctor defamation on the web is obviously rampant. There is an awful lot of commentary and articles and blog posts and journal entries concerning the phenomena of doctor defamation. Now it is interesting that patients who oftentimes have a very close relationship with their doctor, end up sometimes having that relationship go sour and inflaming or defaming the physician that they once had a really good relationship to.

Part of the dynamic I believe as an attorney who specializes in online and internet defamation of character, as well as doctor defamation is that in many instances it’s a blame the messenger situation. Where the physician is generating bills which are sometimes very onerous on patients who can’t pay them. That doctors are the ones who are providing their patients with bad news sometimes about their health condition. That not every patient can be cured, and therefore the blame the doctor phenomena will spit out this anger that is sometimes expressed on the internet. So doctors are sometimes subject to unfair and unwarranted commentary by their patients; and in some instances by other doctors who are posing as patients. Sometimes that commentary will involve false statements of fact about the doctor, which can meet the test of defamation of character under state law.

So what you as a doctor need to understand about web based defamation, is that there are a number of challenges that you will sometimes face in order to deal with the defamatory statement posted on a website. The first is that the website such as Google Places, such as complaints board, such as some of the web based review sites for doctors, they will typically say that they didn’t post the comment, that it was user generated commentary and thus they’re not responsible for any defamatory statement. In fact, what those web site operators will tell you is that under section 230 of the communications decency act, that they are immune from liability for defamation by other people, including doctors, and thus you’ve got this issue of, okay how do you deal with the fact that an anonymous patient has posted something that is patently false, it’s a false statement of fact that amounts to defamation of character, and they post it on a website that refuses to take it down.

Well the challenges here are many. The first is oftentimes identifying the anonymous poster, in order to understand who it is that has posted the defamation of character on the Internet. The second is that you’re never going to be able to convince some of these review websites to remove the content, even if you can show it’s a false statement of fact. What you want to try and do is find the person who has posted the comment and a good Internet law attorney who understands Internet technology and software will be able to do some things to potentially identify an anonymous poster. Things that an average person would not know how to do, as part of an internet investigation of anonymous posters. So a good Internet defamation lawyer can sometimes, tell you who it is they believe has posted the defamatory content.

If you can identify that person then you can sometimes send a letter to them indicating that they’ve engaged in defamation of character and encouraging them to try and deal with the particular website, where the author of the comment is either removing it or trying to take it down or is requesting the website to take it down. So that’s the first step.

If you cannot identify the anonymous poster, you will sometimes have to file a lawsuit in order to get a subpoena which you send to the website operator, demanding the IP Address or any other identification information concerning the person such as their e-mail address, etc. Once you identify that person you’re going to have a lot more leverage. The website operators will remove comments that are judged to be defamatory by a court of law. So if you file a defamation of character lawsuit against someone, and you either settle or win that lawsuit and you get a finding that the comment’s defamatory, often times there will be an order where you can manipulate the language of the order so that you can get the website operator to actually remove the post, or have Google de-list that particular web page from its search results. My name is internet defamation law attorney Enrico Shaeffer. Hope you learned something today about doctor defamation, we’ll see you next time.

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