Gossip Column

Prize patrol, rumor has it...
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This story appears in the July 1999 issue of Startups. Subscribe »

You've worked hard to build an Internet business or the online component of your business. Suddenly, someone starts spreading a rumor about you on the Internet or creates a Web site filled with lies and misinformation about your company. What can you do?

According to Daniel Jamal, author of Risky Business: Protect Your Company From Being Stalked, Conned or Blackmailed on the Web (John Wiley & Sons, $27.95, 800-225-5945), misinformation regarding companies spreads quickly on the Net. "Many companies are falling victim to activists who have targeted their businesses because of their stance on the environment, animal rights, abortion and political causes. One person is going around telling people that a sugar substitute can cause cancer, although she has no proof. Other companies, like Lexis-Nexis, Tommy Hilfiger and Neiman Marcus, have been victims of rumors that were spread via e-mail by well-intentioned people who simply heard or read lies, then urged a boycott by all their friends and colleagues."

If you're being bad-mouthed online, you may not even be aware of it. To find out, Jamal recommends monitoring newsgroups and search engines weekly for your personal name, your company name and your products' names.

If you find misinformation and determine that it's damaging, don't respond immediately. See if the issue dies down or if someone else corrects the information for you. If not, get details about the person or group that is spreading rumors about your business. Search the Internet and online directories such as DejaNews (http://www.dejanews.com) for e-mail addresses and names. Print out copies of everything they've posted or sites they've created about your company so you have records in case the information or Web site is taken down.

To correct misinformation in a discussion group or list, be honest, polite and straightforward. Don't get into an argument or sink to the rumor-monger's level. Post a public correction on your Web site and send one privately to the offending party.

Know the difference between honest complaints that are protected by the First Amendment and false information that constitutes libel. The first is legal and requires diplomacy on your part. The latter just might require a lawyer.

Dangerous Games

Planning to hold a contest or sweepstakes on your Web site? Without proper planning, legal ropes can tie up your contest before it even gets off the ground. A little attention to some basic rules, however, can ensure your event goes off without a hitch.

The first step in offering an online contest and giveaway is making sure it's legal everywhere it's offered. Because of the vast scope of the Internet, you're responsible for adhering to the laws of different states and countries. Evelyn Ashley, founder of Red Hot Law Group of Ashley LLC, a law boutique in Atlanta for emerging growth technology companies, says contests must be run in accordance with the Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA).

According to the FBPA, rules must be posted on the site and must include the promoter's name and address, the retail value of each prize and the odds of winning the contest. (For more on FBPA regulations, visit http://www.ga-law.com/page15.html.) If you break the law in conjunction with online contests, Ashley warns, you can be sued for a breach of statute, with various penalties and fines determined by different states.

Interactive Toaster Co., co-founded by brothers Scott and Daniel Kurland, 26 and 23 respectively, offers an online instant win game on its site (http://www.windough.com

Contact Sources

Interactive Toaster Co.,scott@itoast.com, http://www.itoast.com

Red Hot Law Group of Ashley LLC,eashley@redhotlaw.com, http://www.redhotlaw.com

Shannon Kinnard (shannon@ideastation.com) is the owner of Idea Station, an editorial services company in Decatur, Georgia, that specializes in e-mail newsletters. She is the assistant editor of digitalsouth magazine (http://www.digitalsouth.com) and is working on her first book, which deals with marketing via e-mail.

Edition: December 2016

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