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These are companies “laundering” of their own online reputation?
The legislation, which protects websites from lawsuits is in the process of cleaning the negative comments from online forums, from the BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours has been told.
The companies that threaten the Article 5 of the defamation notice to say that they are a valid defence against false statements.
But a forum claims that they lack the resources to challenge them, and the critics are “white-washed”.
Article 5 of the 2013 edition of the Defamation Act says that a person or a company whose reputation has been damaged, must first attempt to sue the person who made the comments, not the operator of the website.
It takes a bit of pressure on the hosting of websites.
But with the significant increase of the online reputation management over the past few years, a forum has claimed that the orders are have unexpected consequences. The whitening effect
The Legal Beagles forum provides free legal advice for consumers.
The administrators contacted to You and Yours, claiming that they, and the members of the forum, had been served with a continuing stream of Article 5 of the complaints about posts on their site.
They say that most of the complaints come from the HR and employment law firm Peninsula Business Services after a number of discussions have been published about them.
Kate Briscoe, Legal Beagles ” co-founder, says it is having to remove defensible content about the Peninsula because of limited resources, and the posters are to delete their own comments, because they are afraid of the legal consequences.
“It is to have a whitening effect, because it has a very strong decrease of the rate of the part of our members,” she said.
“They are put in the eye of the storm to the front of this company, and the threat of prosecution.”
She added: “This means new firms are considering the Peninsula, is not to see a range of comments about them.”‘False statements’
Peninsula Business Services claim that many statements made in Legal Beagles forum are false.
“We understand that all businesses are at risk of receiving false-negative and defamatory reviews of rival companies, and we support the right of any business challenge,” a spokesman told the BBC.
“On rare occasions, and only as a last resort, we had to investigate what we believe to be false statements.”
“Everywhere we have met with real customers, we have always resolved the issues to all parties satisfaction.”
The effect is not felt in all the forums even if, as it appears size does matter when it comes to online communities.
Another site that has been served with Section 5 notices is at the head of the parenting forum, Mumsnet.”Wisdom”
On the other hand Legal Beagles, it takes a more positive view of the legislation.
Rowan Davies, head of policy and campaigns at Mumsnet, said that people who post on the forum are more willing to stand up to legal threats.
Analysis:By Joshua Rozenberg BBC Radio 4, Law in Action
For a business, the “laundering” of its reputation, negative comments are taken out of a website?
It depends on if the owner of the web site is ready to call the company’s bluff.
The web site may be able to argue that the statements were not defamatory, or that their publication was in the public interest.
There is a risk that the owner of the site may not then be sued by the company. But some websites may be willing to take that risk.
An action against the person who posted the comment: Most people don’t bother to continue.
They would not have the money to pay the damages and costs.
But we didn’t wait for McDonalds to bring an action for defamation against a couple of unemployed people, activists from back in the mid-1990s.
So you can never be sure.
“Mumsnet users have a tendency to pass on the wisdom of each other, and are more confident about standing by their comments, when they know that it is true,” she said.”Huge risk”
While the Section 5 notice to put the responsibility on the person who posted the comment, they do not completely protect the web sites to be sued.
If the person who posted the comment cannot be identified by the complainant, and the comment remains in place, so that the website can still be pursued.
But as Kate Briscoe Legal Beagle explains, even if they believe that the comments could be defended in court, the risk is too high to leave them in place.
“To defend a libel suit, you are talking dozens, or hundreds of thousands of pounds,” she said.
“It is a huge risk for a small organization such as ourselves, to risk the entire existence of the forum.”Disinfection
A simple Google search reveals several pages of companies dedicated to the management of online company profiles.
They promise to tackle negative content, produce a positive profile, and make sure that the potential clients see the companies at their best.
Simon Wadsworth is a managing partner of one of the UK’s leading online reputation management companies, Igniyte.
He says that he has been a great increase in the past few years, companies who are trying to have negative content removed.
“Section 5s play a big role in what we do,” he says.
“I’ve also heard the term’ money laundering, and I don’t like it – it suggests that you are disinfecting something.”
He added: “If a company has really bad reviews, and you can’t challenge it, then that the bad reputation is deserved, isn’t it?”
You and yours is on BBC Radio 4 weekdays 12:15-13:00 GMT. Listen online or download the programme podcast.