Crisis communicators know that social media has opened up a whole new area of risk or vulnerability. Major organizations have been waging war on the internet for several years now, but each new step forward in social media seems to increase the potential dangers. Here is a disheartening example of what one brand/celebrity is facing. Ron Livingston (I’ll admit I’m a fan because of his portrayal of the Intelligence Officer Nixon in Band of Brothers), is an actor with a reputation to protect. But he seems to have a determined enemy. Unfortunately one who is social media savvy. His weapons are repeated submissions to wikipedia and fake Facebook accounts. The accusation is that the married Livingston is in a gay relationship with a specific individual.
Assuming it is a demented person with an axe to grind against the actor, what is he to do? In this case he is suing to stop the detractor. Since the submitters to sites like wikipedia are anonymous, the suit may force wikipedia to divulge the name–an interesting conflict in itself.
Like most others that I have followed in crisis management, I have argued that filing suit should be the last resort. In this case it seems appropriate. The main reason is that if Livingston wants to protect his reputation he cannot let the smear stand and take on a life of its own. He could sit back, monitor and see if it gets legs. I suspect he has done that already. But if it does, then what can he do? He needs to let the world know that the attacks are false and malicious and he needs to defend himself. He can go on his website, twitter, facebook and all that and say that, but he needs it to go bigger than that, viral, comments on blogs like this one, media attention. How do you get that? File a lawsuit.
I don’t know about the legal merits of the case, whether he wins or loses or what is gained if he does. But I do believe that in this case filing a suit shows he is intent on protecting his reputation, letting the world know what the truth is (it better be the truth when you use this strategy or you are toast forever), and not about to let a scumbag get by with that kind of behavior. I’ll be watching for this one, Nixon.