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Internet Defamation in Online Reviews

Mark Clark - November 28, 2016 - Defamation Law, Proving Defamation of Character

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Your customer reviews on Google places, Glassdoor, Yelp, and other websites are important to your success and affect your revenue.  A negative review can cause real pain to you and your business. False reviews are rampant and sometimes posted as scams to extort money from you or your company.

Negative reviews are as easy to submit as hitting ‘submit’

Are you the subject of a bad online review? Understanding your legal options always starts with an assessment and strategy project.  It is critical for your attorney to obtain all the relevant background information before making a recommendation.  If the review is true and legitimate, you may not have any legal recourse.  However, there are often other options which our lawyers recommend in order to give you the best chance at reducing the harm to your business and reputation.

Traverse Legal If the review contains false information, it may be considered defamatory giving you legal recourse. If the review is posted by a competitor, there are other legal theories which might be used as leverage including:

  • tortious interference with business relations.
  • unfair competition and unfair trade practices.
  • intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Should I file a lawsuit to have the review removed or for damages?

There are a lot of things which you and your lawyer should consider before stepping into court. A good defamation attorney understands Section 230 and the relevant state defamation laws. A great attorney does a full review of your matter before making any recommendations about which strategy will be the most likely one to achieve your unique goals within your budget expectations.

Can I sue the website hosting the false review?

Many clients want to sue the website hosting the information which is alleged to be defamatory.  Online reviews on Yelp, Google, Indeed, 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.

Can I sue the person who posted the negative review?

Suing the person who posted the negative review is also worth consideration.  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.

What to do about anonymous online reviews

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.

Hire an attorney who understands the internet and specializes in defamation law

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.

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