Reputation in the digital age: how family offices can combat online reputational risks

27 September 2023 | 2 minute read

The reputation of individuals and corporations has always been vulnerable to attack. However, the ease and speed with which information can be disseminated online raises new questions, particularly for high-net-worth individuals and families seeking to protect their reputations. There are also often questions that arise as to whether a party may be subject to any criminal liability in relation to online communications.   

We are delighted to have contributed to the latest edition of Family Offices: The STEP Handbook for Advisers – a guide for advisors on the family office model – highlighting the common problems that may be encountered online, as well as the legal and practical ways of addressing them. 

The speed with which information can spread online is unparalleled. Seeking advice before a crisis arises means that a plan of action can be put in place in advance and decisions need not be made under intense time pressure

For practitioners working with high-net-worth individuals and family offices, understanding reputational and criminal challenges online is increasingly important. We discuss proactive measures that can be taken to identify and manage reputational risks – for example, privacy planning can help manage your online profile and put your family and/or business in a strong position to deal with reputational risks as and when they arise. Planning can be particularly important for family offices and their legal teams to consider, in advance of any major events such as business acquisitions or changes to the family dynamic and structure. We further comment on the criminal offences frequently used by prosecutors where online communications are offensive and consider cyberstalking, which has been recognised by prosecuting authorities as a form of discrimination against women. 

The chapter also discusses how and when (and in the case of global information sharing, where) to deal with problematic information shared online. It also includes an overview of the most relevant civil causes of action under the law of England and Wales, including defamation, harassment, rights to erasure of personal data and the misuse of private information, as well as how to report a crime.

It may be appropriate to take advice in a number of jurisdictions in order to consider in which jurisdiction the prospective claimant would have the best prospects of success

Reputation is of universal importance and the stakes are particularly high for high-net-worth (HNW) individuals and families. Taking proactive steps and managing one's digital footprint is key to ensuring that families and family offices are in the best position to prevent risk or seek remedy, should a crisis arise. 

'Reputation in the digital age: how to combat online reputational risks' was published in the STEP Family Office handbook, Third edition, in September 2023. The chapter covers:

  1. The nature of reputational risks in the digital age
  2. Common considerations when dealing with online content
  3. Online libel
  4. Online harassment    
  5.  Communication offences  
  6. Inaccurate or out-of-date search engine results
  7. Misuse of private information online
  8.  Impersonation online
  9.  Privacy planning

You can read the full chapter here.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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