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When can a business owner sue for defamation?

If you own a business, your reputation is likely one of your most valued assets. These days, it's all too easy to damage a business's reputation -- often anonymously. Many times, competitors will take to Twitter or other social media sites to make derogatory and possibly false statements about a business.

When are these negative comments considered defamation, and therefore, legally actionable -- for example, through a defamation lawsuit?

An important question to ask is whether the statements are provably false. If someone makes a claim that your business doesn't hire anyone who isn't white, for example, and you can show that this simply isn't accurate, you may have a case.

However, in order to sue for defamation, you need to show that the false statement(s) caused harm to your business. Maybe people have begun boycotting your business based on the false accusation that you have no minority employees. Your reputation is suffering as is your business. You may well have grounds for a defamation suit.

Determining whether the false statements were made by or at the direction of a competitor can be challenging. So much social media and other online communications are anonymous. It can be costly and difficult to get a website to reveal the identity of someone posting on it -- if they're even able to determine their real identity.

It's important to remember that insults and nasty comments often don't rise to the level of defamation. If a customer had an unpleasant experience with one of your employees, they have the right to post about it on Yelp or another review site.

However, when businesses use the power of the internet to intentionally seek to harm their competitors, that's another matter. If you are wondering whether you have grounds for a lawsuit, your best course of action is to discuss the situation with an experienced attorney.

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