One of the downsides (or upsides, depending on your point of view) of Internet memes is that they're ephemeral. Once-popular touchstones like "All your base," or "Hamster dance" have slunk off to the Island of Forgotten Internet Cliches. But there's one meme -- more of a rule, really -- that continues to wreak havoc on companies and lawyers who don't pay attention to it. We're talking, of course, about the Streisand Effect
-- the phenomenon whereby (according to Wikipedia) "an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.
Lawyers and executives for the company Medialink are getting an example of precisely how sicking lawyers on someone over a negative review can result in the article exploding across the Internet in short order. Last fall, reddit user Trevely posted a negative review
of the Medialink MWN-WAPR300N. In it, he expressed a belief that many of the five-star reviews for the router were fake, and noted that the $50 Medialink router contained the exact same hardware as a Tenda router sold for half the price (a fact confirmed by FCC filings
In response, Mediabridge (a company somehow affiliated with Medialink, though the relationship is unclear), sent a letter that reads
, in part:
[T]hese statements are bold-faced lies that can only be viewed as an illegal attempt to improperly and intentionally interfere with Mediabridge's business... Furthermore, the fact that your defamatory and libelous "Product Review" so quickly gathered such an abnormally high number of helpful votes indicates to Mediabridge that there was likely a concerted campaign by you and unknown others to ramp this review up to the top of the list of "helpful reviews" to be more effective in damaging Mediabridge.
Be advised that Mediabridge zealously guards its hard earned reputation and is going to seek a court award of consequential, compensatory, and punitive damages from you.
And so on, and so on. It also demanded that he never purchase, publish, comment on, speak about, or engage in any dialog with anyone about any Mediabridge product, ever.
What Could Possibly Go wrong?
There are several problems with attacking a private citizen in this manner. First, in the United States, it's not enough to prove a claim is false -- the company must prove that the defendant acted out of either malice or reckless disregard for the truth. This is nearly impossible to prove and the original author has a linked claim to his statements regarding the Tenda rebrand. One reason Medialink might have wanted to hide that reference? Tenda routers were singled out for significant and possibly deliberate security flaws in the recent past.
To date, there's been one case in which a woman was convicted of defamation for an online review -- but the same jury found that the defamed party had himself defamed the reviewer, and awarded neither any damages.
The Internet, of course, is reacting as the Internet typically does when a large company attempts to smash dissent and apparently accurate criticism with a subpoena. One-star reviews of the aforementioned router are skyrocketing, with more than 70 logged in the past few hours. If Medialink's goal was to safeguard its reputation, it's about to find out exactly how badly it miscalculated.