Defamation On Google Local Results

Matt:  Hi, and welcome back to Defamation Law Radio.  My name’s Matt Plessner, and today’s subject targets business owners and managers.  Google is a great place to get reviews. Good reviews can get a business a lot of great success, though bad reviews can be harmful or even fatal to a businesses reputation. How far is a person allowed to go with a bad review? And is there anything that you can do about it? We’ll answer these questions and more as we talk again today with the defamation attorney Enrico Schaefer of the Traverse Legal office of Traverse City, MI.  Enrico, nice to have you.

Enrico: How are you doing today, Matt?

Matt:  Doing very well, thank you very much. Let’s start out by talking about defamation. Enrico, what is defamation?

Enrico: Defamation is when someone makes a false statement of fact about you or your company or business and posts it on the internet as, when it’s actually written down, it’s called libel, and when its actually spoken, then it’s slander. So the way we see this happening is if it’s in a YouTube video or a radio show like this, it might be [slander]. And if it turns out getting written up and post it on the internet, then you’re going to have a libel. Both of those are known as defamation. So it’s a false statements of fact that tends to harm your reputation or your business’s reputation.

Matt: So Enrico obviously, writing a negative review, if you’re a customer and dissatisfied, id legal. But at what point does it cross into internet defamation?

Enrico: There are two key factors here, Matt, that any internet defamation lawyer is going to look at in order to determine weather or not the review is legitimate (first amendment protected review) or weather or not it is defamation on the internet. And the two key factors are: first, it has to be a false statement of fact opposed to a statement of opinion. So if I post a review that says “I tried to call that business a dozen times and they never returned my call.” that is provable as true or false, right? I could get my phone logs out. I could get the person to admit that, in fact, they never called my business. So, these are things that tend to be more fact-based that can be proven true that actually happened or not. An opinion is “I didn’t like the way that business handled my matter and felt they did a really poor job.” that cannot be proven true or false if it’s a statement of opinion. So, opinions are protected by the first amendment. Facts are protected by the first amendment. What is not protected by the first amendment are false statements of fact which, and now get to the second piece of the puzzle, tend to harm your reputation. So it has to be something that is negative that is going to lower your reputation to the relevant audience. So, if again, going back to my initial example of, if I post a review saying that I called your business five times and they never returned my call…be careful of this business, well then that certainly  potentially is a false statement of fact-let’s say it never occurred-and it certainly harms my business’s reputation because calling customers back is an important thing to most people, and it may affect weather or not someone contacts my company or hires my business for whatever product or service I am offering. So, a false statement of fact, tends to harm your reputation, [and] now you’re in the discussion of weather or not this is defamation or weather or not this is a bogus review.

Matt: Now Enrico, this hits home to because I am a business owner (my own DJ services, Solid Sound Music). How much can contract play a part in this. Like, for example, I write up contracts with brides and grooms all the time, saying exactly what we’re going to play, what we’re going to do, and stuff like that. And if I meet those requirements and they say that I didn’t, or they still write negative reviews, do I have a case against defamation possibly?

Enrico: Yeah, possibly. And there’s a lot of grey area here. It will depend upon what the contract term is, but if you have a contract that says you’re going to show up at a specific time and date and take 20 pictures, and you showed up upon that time and date and took 20 pictured, and you showed up at that time and date and provided sound services, if they say that you didn’t and you did, that is objectively provable as true or false, and therefor, it tends to fall into the area known as “fact,” and therefor is potentially defamation. Where you get into some grey areas is where you say you had this contract with them and you were going to show up at a date and a time and you were going to perform particular services, and now they start talking about the quality of your services, that they felt you were unprofessional, or they thought you did not handle a particular item well. A lot of that is going to opinion, and you’re going to have to live with it. So if you end up with a negative review, and these reviews tend to show up at a variety of different places. The most obvious ones are YELP; it’s a very popular review site, and there’s a lot of reviews on YELP that are negative. And also on you’re Google places listing, you’re local listing, so when you add your business to Google, or Google adds you to their database of local addresses and phone numbers, and someone searches for your business name, Traverse Legal Austin TX or Traverse Legal Austin, Google is going to anticipate that maybe you’re not just doing a search, you’re actually looking for a phone number or address of a business, so they will serve up as part of the results local listings and a map. That will show you, potentially your company, where it is on the map, and will also show your address and phone number and will note weather or not  there are any customer reviews as part of the Google places listing. SO those reviews can be very prominent. Obviously, Google promotes it’s own reviews and it’s places listings. So if you end up with a negative review and it’s potentially defamation, you should speak to a lawyer who specializes in both Internet law and Defamation Libel, because your going to need to figure out weather or not there’s something you can do about this post or not. If it turns out the post is defamatory, then you could potentially contact the person, let them know that it is a false statement of fact that you believe it’s defamatory and you insist on it being removed. The good news is, in many of these places like YELP and Google places, the user can actually remove or edit the post of the review they did or you and your company. So that is good. In some other places it can’t be edited and it can’t be changed, like RIPOFFREPORTS.COM or COMPLAINTSBOARD.COM. So, you’ve got to get someone who specializes in this area of law involved and see what the possibilities might be.
Matt: Alright, Enrico, well thanks again for taking some time to talk with us today, and we will talk with you more soon!
Enrico:  Thanks Matt, you have a great day.
Matt: You too, and this is Matt Plessner speaking for Defamation Law Radio.

GET IN Touch

We’re here to field your questions and concerns. If you are a company able to pay a reasonable legal fee each month, please contact us today.


This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Enrico Schaefer, who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a practicing Business, IP, and Technology Law litigation attorney.