For better or worse, the world we live in today is best characterized as an information society. In the information society, information available through online searches largely governs our consumer decisions, which are in turn governed by our perception of the other party’s reputation. Countless studies in consumer behavior indicate that business reviews from the perspective of the customers strongly influence consumers’ purchasing behavior. Given consumers’ tendency to see online content as a reliable indicator of commercial reputation, the logical trend is that this will ultimately result in a few unscrupulous operators using online content to unfairly smear a rival (or even do so as a prank). In serious cases involving false information being posted online as a form of reputational vandalism, litigation has been the only available course of action to compensate the victims and attempt to remedy the derogatory content. These cases generally involve a theory of liability based in defamation, in which the party who was allegedly slandered online claims a loss in public esteem that in turn involves some form of measurable economic damage.
In this type of litigation, an online business expert witness must provide testimony that quantifies the impact of the damage (or lack thereof) to a business’s online reputation. This involves how widely dispersed the negative content is and the amount of views or redistribution it receives. Further, the expert witness may testify as to the difficulty that may be encountered when attempting to eliminate the online content. Has the genie irretrievably been let loose from the bottle, or can it be put back inside?
The expert witness in this case will provide the court with testimony that rests in a number of disciplines ranging from the mechanics of online search technology (such as the likelihood that a given set of results will be produced when a person searches for a certain term), search engine optimization (SEO), and the amount of traffic and distribution online content may receive. Effectively, the expert witness will be able to provide testimonial evidence to the court about whether the party engaging in the one-person online war against your business has successfully detonated the online equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction, or if it was just a tiny firecracker. Regardless of the circumstances, an expert who can speak from a position of knowledge in these extremely technical and specialized subjects can effectively offer a dose of hard reality and substance to what the untrained eye may perceive as only a virtual problem.
By: Jeffrey Green, J.D., M.A.