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Defamation: The Stain That Can Never Be Removed

Defamation is a form of negative communications which is easy to apply but nearly impossible to completely remove. Defamation is defined as “the action of damaging the good reputation of someone. Defamation results from some form of negative communications, whether written (libel) or verbal (slander). Negative communications are extremely powerful and in, most instances, difficult to counter or overcome – mainly because of human nature and psychology. When some person, business or entity is defamed, there are factors that come into play that generally are irreversible. There are several adages which succinctly cut to the heart of the problem:

  • Where there is smoke, there is fire. When there is a negative impression about

something, some people will always believe it is true even if that impression is proven false. Once “seeds of doubt” are planted, the “entity” in question becomes “damaged goods” and subject to suspicion. The slate can never be wiped clean.

  • You can’t unring a bell. Once someone has absorbed negative information, it can’t be “erased” from their mind.

  • It can take a lifetime to build a reputation but only seconds to destroy it. Reputations are generally amassed over a myriad of time based on a body of work. When a person, business, entity, etc. has a good reputation, it is because of consistency, reliability, quality and a clean record. When negative input is generated, depending on the severity, it can be devastating – even permanently.

It should be noted that defamation is particularly harmful to people, more so than to businesses, products or other forms of non-human entities. For instance, this is true when it targets professionals. A person’s image and reputation is often more important in selecting one’s services than experience, credentials or achievements. Many select professionals on the basis of character (i.e. “character counts”). Perceived personal misbehavior can be a more important determinant in the selection process.

Once negative information is disseminated, it can take on a life of its own in terms of how and where it is spread, how it is interpreted and its longevity.

  • If spread by “word of mouth” it is particularly damaging because the information can change from one person to another, be misinterpreted or embellished upon which often can distort or escalate the negativity from the original message.

  • When spread in a “non-controlled” means, without boundaries in terms of who has access to it, it is impossible to ensure that a “counter message” reaches everyone who received the original negative message.

  • In terms of time, there is often no end to the dissemination of negative information or sometimes reach (e.g. the internet). It can spread and can be permanent, resulting in severe damage and consequences to those impacted.

The “bottom line” is that an accusation or allegation of wrongdoing in some form can be highly damaging in the short and possibly even long term regardless of whether it is accurate and even in spite of efforts to counteract it.

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