Internet Defamation in Online Reviews

Internet Defamation in Online Reviews

Are you the subject of a bad online review? Can you sue to have the review removed or for damages?

Online reviews on Yelp, Healthgrades, Avvo, Expedia, Glassdoor, and other online review sites are typically not actionable unless the content meets certain threshold criteria. First, it should be noted that the review site itself can almost never be sued under the immunities of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which allows online bulletin boards such as a review site to avoid liability unless they become a content generator themselves and engage in the discussions which they are typically careful to avoid. Online review sites typically do have guidelines or terms and conditions that may allow you to petition the site for removal of the content if it violates those guidelines or terms and conditions of the site. Each particular review site is different in its approach to removal of content and a through review of the guidelines by an experienced attorney may provide a remedy.

It may be possible to file a lawsuit for a negative online review of your business if the review contains negative false statements of fact that pertain to the business itself and crosses the line into a legal claim for defamation. Opinions that do not contain a provably false statement of fact are not actionable as defamation. If the review has asserted objectively false statements of fact that are defamatory and has adversely affected your business reputation then you may have a claim for defamation against the reviewer but since defamation law varies from state to state an application and analysis of the applicable state law is always necessary to determine whether a false statement has crossed the threshold for defamation and whether the applicable statute of limitations may have run on the claim.

If you can prove an online review is defamatory identification of the poster is usually also at issue. Typically, the initiation of a “John Doe” lawsuit against a yet to be identified defendant will afford you the subpoena power that may allow you to obtain records from the website and an internet provider in order to be able to identify the poster of the defamatory content.

If you are the victim of an online review that is also defamatory you may have a means for either removing the review. A careful review and analysis by a qualified attorney is usually the best way to determine your options and best courses of action in advance of proceeding with a plan of attack in addressing a negative online review of your business.