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Conclusion

If you do decide to resist, and publicize your efforts, you can help others through your example. The McLibel campaign sent a powerful message to large corporations: sue at the risk of extreme damage to your reputations. That is indeed a powerful message considering that defending reputation is what suing is supposed to achieve.

My attention from the beginning was on the use of defamation law as a form of censorship, as spelled out in the leaflet “Defamation Law and Free Speech.” The visibility of the leaflet on the web has generated a continuing stream of correspondence, much of it from people asking what to do. Roughly two-thirds are about dealing with defamation attacks, anything from an ex-husband threatening legal action over comments made to a friend to someone wanting to set up a website about bad debts asking about avoiding suits.

But then, unexpectedly, there is the other one-third: people who have been defamed asking me what to do about it. One woman was disturbed by hostile rumors being spread around her neighborhood; another had her business disparaged on television and wanted to respond. So regular were the requests that I wrote a little article, using the backfire model but in the opposite direction, looking at the tactics of defamers and how to counter them.18

I usually spell out a series of options rather than giving a specific recommendation. One option is to just ignore the slurs, as most people will forget about them and challenging them will simply make people remember. Another option is to make a prompt, succinct, factual, and nonemotional response. This is easiest on the Internet; it is easy to send a quick reply on an email list.

Then there is the option of suing. That is usually why people who have been defamed contact me. Some of them ask me to recommend a lawyer. I always say this is probably the worst option. Suing is very expensive, not guaranteed to win, slow, and procedural. And it won’t help your reputation. In fact, it might make the damage to your reputation far worse—especially if the other side knows how to make defamation actions backfire.

 
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