Dealing with Defamation of Your Business: Can You Sue?

Last updated on May 27, 2019

Featured image for the "Dealing with Defamation of Your Business: Can You Sue?" article. It features a businessman trying to fight off bad reviews.

What is Defamation?

In legal terms, a false statement of fact made to harm the reputation of someone else, and made either negligently or maliciously, constitutes defamation.

It can be in 2 different forms:

Type of Defamation Example of Defamation
Written defamation is known as libel Publications on various media such as newspapers and magazines and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter
Oral defamation is known as slander Oral statements made on television, radio and on social media sites

There are 2 primary statutes which regulate defamation in Singapore – namely section 499 of the Penal Code and the Defamation Act.

Depending on the severity and nature of the offence, parties alleged to have committed defamation can be charged in court under either the Penal Code or the Defamation Act.

Under the Penal Code, defamation is regarded as a criminal offence and you could be sentenced to prison if found guilty.

Under the Defamation Act, defamation is regarded as a civil offence instead, and possible remedies include compensation to the victim and injunctions (banning the offender from posting again).

Legal Defences To Defamation

Under common law in Singapore, there are 2 primary defences to defamation, for those defined as without privilege. They are namely a defence of justification, and a defence of fair comment.

In summary, for a defence of justification, the defendant (person who is accused of making the defamatory remark) has to bear the burden of proof to show that the statement that he/she made was true.

For defence of fair comment, the defendant must prove that the statement was a matter of genuine opinion.

How Defamation Relates to Business Owners

Business owners, especially those running online businesses, are also affected by defamation. Unlike in cases where defamation is made against a person, defamation is directed at the business instead.

For example, should you be a service provider and run most of your business online, defamation can take place through online reviews about your business and the services it provides. This can happen when dissatisfied customers write up negative online reviews about your business on crowd-sourced review platforms such as TripAdvisor or Yelp. As a business owner, such remarks are defamatory if they are deemed to be untrue and made with the intent of harming your business’ reputation.

Businesses such as those in Sim Lim Square have already developed notorious reputations, as a result of numerous bad reviews online. However, cases where businesses retaliate and cite the reviews as defamatory in Singapore are still far and wide, and do not happen regularly in Singapore.

Another example would be marketing tactics from competitors to deliberately undermine your business through negative advertising campaigns. Competitors can choose to do this by deliberately targeting your business and asserting their superiority over your products or services.

The 2015 case of Singtel and Gushcloud serves to illustrate this. Even though the case did not proceed to litigation and defamation claims, it highlights another potential area for defamation against your business.

In more extreme cases, your business can also be sued for defamation if statements made during advertising campaigns are made negligently and deemed to be defamatory. Hence, it is important to understand defamation in the context of your business, and how such cases can be avoided or managed.

Responding to Defamation of Your Business

Effective management of the situation is crucial for your business. Here are some approaches in which you can respond to defamatory remarks about your business and uphold your business’ integrity:

1. Do not be hasty in wanting to remove hate remarks

The first step to bear in mind would be that the removal (even immediate) of such defamatory remarks may not be the best solution to the problem. Always bear in mind that on third-party, crowd-sourced review platforms, reviewers are free to publicise their opinions or experiences, as long as they comply with the websites’ rules.

Having the comment taken down or demanding the third-party provider to do so could make matters worse. Your business will appear overly-defensive and aggressive, and give an impression of being incapable of dealing with criticism.

In a recent court ruling in the USA, a law firm successfully won a lawsuit for crowd-sourced review platform, Yelp, to take down a negative review written by one of the firm’s former clients. However, the case spanned across 2 years of litigation, committing a great deal of time and effort, and resources from the firm.

It is not as straightforward as merely having a bad review taken down. Unless the remarks are of a threatening or abusive nature, you should take this into consideration before deciding to insist that the reviews be taken down. This helps you to avoid unnecessary or longstanding legal action.

2. Respond graciously

One approach which business owners can take is in the form of a targeted and gracious response to the maker of the defamatory remarks online. This approach allows you to acknowledge your business’ shortcomings (if there were any) and seek to restore customer confidence. This must also be balanced with maintaining the dignity and integrity of your business.

For example, you can offer to listen to why your customer was not satisfied and suggest a suitable remedial or prospective compensation. A 2015 example would be how the CEO of Farm Fresh milk responded to a complaint and bad review of his milk products, and how his response managed to win his customer back.

Recent cases of restaurants in Singapore responding badly to online reviews has drawn criticism from Netizens and even worsened the restaurants’ reputations. Hence, it pays to adopt a more gracious approach rather than an overly-aggressive one.

As a business owner, you can even see the lighter side of things and adopt a more light-hearted, humorous yet respectful approach in response to defamatory remarks about your business. At the same time, do not be afraid to present your side of the story. See how these business owners responded to bad reviews about them on Yelp.

3. Seek legal advice

If these defamatory remarks have been truly damaging to your business’ reputation, such as a prolonged drop in sales and earnings or loss of customers, you can then turn to litigation to address the issue. It is usually recommended as a last resort due to the amount of resources that could be drained from your business. Depending on the severity of the remarks, it may be a criminal or civil proceeding.

For you to prove that the remarks made were indeed defamatory to your business, you will have to ensure that the statement(s) made fulfils 3 criteria:

  1. The statement(s) must be defamatory in nature, i.e. intended to harm your business’ reputation or expose your business to contempt or ridicule.
  2. The statement(s) must refer to your business, either by stating its name or referencing it through other means, e.g. a picture.
  3. The statement(s) about your business must be published and communicated to a third party.

Once you can successfully prove that the statement(s) were indeed defamatory, you can proceed to seek compensation in the form of damages or injunctions in court. For more serious cases, the defendant (maker of the defamatory remarks) could face imprisonment if found guilty.

Do bear in mind that you are unable to seek legal action against the network service providers, e.g. TripAdvisor or Facebook, provided that they have not altered the defamatory statements in question.

This is because they are protected under section 26 of the Electronic Transactions Act which states that they are not subjected to any civil or criminal liability that arises when such content is posted, they are merely providing access to such statements.

SingaporeLegalAdvice provides a platform for you to contact defamation lawyers and seek a suitable recourse for your business in the event of alleged defamation.

Dealing with Defamation

As a business owner, especially if you run an online business, your business will always be subjected to criticism and reviews from customers. It is important to manage such remarks carefully and not jump into a defamation suit. However, in some cases litigation might be the last resort to ensure that your business’ integrity is not compromised.

Careful management of how your business responds to defamation will ensure that its reputation will not be compromised in the long term.

  1. What are Annual General Meetings (AGMs) in Singapore?
  2. Anti-Money Laundering Regulations and Your Business: What You Need to Know
  3. Price-Fixing, Bid-Rigging and Other Anti-Competitive Practices to Avoid
  4. Dividend Payments Guide for Singapore Business Owners
  5. Company Audits in Singapore: Requirements and Exemptions
  6. Guide to Transferring Shares in a Singapore Private Company
  7. How to Hold Extraordinary General Meetings (EGMs) in Singapore
  8. How to Issue Shares in a Singapore Private Company
  9. How to Reduce the Share Capital of Your Singapore Company
  10. Legally Conducting Lucky Draws for Singapore Businesses
  11. Dormant Companies and Their Filing Obligations in Singapore
  12. How to Hold a Board Meeting in Singapore
  13. Can Directors be Liable for Company Debts in Singapore?
  14. Paid-Up Capital in Singapore: A Complete Guide (Is $1 Enough?)
  15. Restaurant Inspection and Food Safety Rules in Singapore
  16. Preparing a Register of Shareholders for a Singapore Company
  17. Essential Regulatory Compliance Guide for Singapore Companies
  18. Finding a Suitable Corporate Secretarial Firm in Singapore
  19. Oppression of Minority Shareholders
  20. Process Agents in Singapore
Company Management
  1. Shadow Directors: Who are They and What Duties Do They Owe to the Company?
  2. Guide to Directors' Remuneration in Singapore
  3. 3 Types of Insurance Every Singapore Business Needs
  4. How to Change the Name of Your Singapore Company
  5. How to Remove a Director from a Company in Singapore
  6. Appointing Company Directors in Singapore: Eligibility, Process etc.
  7. Company Loans to Directors/Shareholders (& Vice Versa) in Singapore
  8. Share Transmission: What Happens If a Shareholder Dies in Singapore?
  9. Business Will: How to Pass on Your Business to Your Successors in Singapore
  10. Shareholder Rights in Singapore Private Companies
  11. Removal and Resignation of Company Auditor in Singapore
  12. Shareholder Roles and Obligations in Singapore Companies
  13. Creating and Registering Charges in Singapore: Guide for Companies
  14. How to Commence a Derivative Action on Behalf of a Company in Singapore
  15. Managing Director vs CEO in Singapore: Roles and Obligations
  16. Appointing an Authorised Representative for Foreign Companies in Singapore
  17. Business Partnership Disputes in Singapore: How to Resolve
  18. Guide to Effective Business Continuity Planning in Singapore
  19. Buy-Sell Agreements: How to Write & Fund Them in Singapore
  20. Voluntary Suspension of Business in Singapore: How to Handle
  21. Business Asset Sale & Disposal in Singapore: How Do They Work?
  22. Appointing a Company Secretary: Roles and Responsibilities
  23. Directors' Duties in Singapore
Company Documents
  1. Company Constitutions in Singapore and How to Draft One
  2. Company Memorandum and Articles of Association
  3. Minutes of Company Meeting in Singapore: How to Record
  4. Guide to Filing Financial Statements for Singapore Business Owners
  5. Filing Annual Returns For Your Business
  6. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): Does Your Business Need One?
  7. Company Resolutions: What are They?
  8. Board Resolutions in Singapore
  9. Your Guide to Share Certificates in Singapore: Usage and How to Prepare
  10. How to Set Up a Register of Controllers
  11. How to Set Up a Register of Nominee Directors
Tax and Accounting
  1. What is Withholding Tax and When to Pay It in Singapore
  2. Singapore Influencers: Here's How to Calculate Your Income Tax
  3. Corporate Tax in Singapore: How to Pay, Tax Rate, Exemptions
  4. When to Register for GST, How and Responsibilities after Registration
  5. Start-Up Tax Exemption Guide for New Singapore Companies
  6. Tax Investigation of Tax-Evading Business Owners in Singapore
  7. Small Business Accounting Services in Singapore
Data Protection
  1. Essential PDPA Compliance Guide for Singapore Businesses
  2. Cloud Storage of Personal Data: Your Business’ Data Protection Obligations
  3. How Can Companies Dispose of Documents Containing Personal Data?
  4. Here's a 7-Step Plan for Companies to Prevent Unauthorised Disclosure When Processing and Sending Personal Data
  5. Appointing a Data Protection Officer For Your Business: All You Need to Know
  6. Summary: Your Organisation's 9 Main PDPA Obligations
  7. Check the Do-Not-Call Registry Before Marketing to Singapore Phone Numbers
  8. GDPR Compliance in Singapore: Is it Required and How to Comply
  9. Drafting a Comprehensive Privacy Policy For Your Singapore Website
  10. Is It Legal for Businesses to Ask for Your NRIC in Singapore?
  11. PDPA Consent Requirements: How Can Your Business Comply?
  12. Legal Options If Employees Breach Confidentiality in Singapore
  13. Your Guide to a Media Release Form in Singapore
  1. Complying with Singapore Law When Sending Email Newsletters
  2. Outdoor Advertising: How to Legally Display Public Ads in Singapore
  3. A legal guide to drafting a social media policy for your company
  4. Dealing with Defamation of Your Business: Can You Sue?
  1. Starting a Franchise in Singapore: What Franchisors Should Look Out For
  2. Running a Franchise in Singapore: What To Look Out for as a Franchisee
Debt Restructuring
  1. Informal Debt Restructuring and Workout in Singapore
  2. Schemes of Arrangement: How They Work and How to Apply
  3. What is Judicial Management and How It Works in Singapore
Ending a Business
  1. Insolvency: Claw-Back of Assets From Unfair Preference and Undervalued Transactions
  2. Striking Off a Company
  3. What Should a Creditor Do When a Company Becomes Insolvent?
  4. Dissolution of partnerships in Singapore
  5. Validation of Payments Made by Companies Being Wound Up
  6. Can a Company that Struck Itself Off the Register Later Apply to Restore Itself?
  7. Closing Your Singapore Business: What You Need to Settle
  8. How to File a Proof of Debt against a Company in Liquidation
  9. Winding Up a Company