Fraudulent review websites
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How to deal with fraudulent review websites
Most people believe that online review websites are trustworthy and are there to enhance a consumer’s ability to make the right choice or to educate them in choosing a reputable supplier, a builder, an estate agent or a holiday provider. However, many online review website operators are motivated by self-interest, which does not always coincide with the interest of the consumer.
Whilst some operators of online review websites operate within a semi-transparent environment, which, over time, has enhanced consumer trust in them, the vast majority of those who operate review websites have clever systems that are aimed to benefit them financially. This is done by encouraging visitors to visit their website, to write negative reviews, by promoting positive online reviews about businesses with which the operator is financially involved with and by forcing business owners to pay a hefty monthly or annual retainer for help in “handling” their online review account with the operator.
This reality often results in attacking and consequently destroying the reputation of good, honest and well established businesses across the UK. Whether you can trust online review websites would depend on how sceptical you are when considering the motivation of both the website operators and online reviewers in engaging with the online review practices. Whilst many operators of online review websites and most of the reviewers are honest and decent individuals, the one who fall short of this standard, cast a dark shadow over the credibility of the entire online review network.
Online Reviews and Defamation Legal Advice FAQ
Trust in online review websites can vary. Some operate transparently and gain consumer trust over time, but others may have systems that benefit financially from promoting certain reviews, which can undermine the credibility of such platforms.
Yes, website operators can be held liable for defamation when notified of such content on their platform. Their responsibility is similar to the original author's if they choose not to remove the defamatory content or fail to provide the author's identity.
Responding to a defamatory review may inadvertently give it more visibility. It's not a legal requirement to respond, and doing so might not improve the situation, especially if the review contains inaccuracies.
Many website operators will remove defamatory content after receiving a properly communicated legal notice highlighting their liability, although some may not.
Business owners should gather evidence of defamation and consult with a lawyer experienced in dealing with online defamation to formulate a strategy for having such reviews removed effectively.
It is only a matter of time before nearly every business owner and entrepreneur will find themselves at the mercy of operators of review websites who will consider themselves as the judges and jury in a very public trial. Mystery visitors to these websites will tell the world that their “dream holiday” has turned into a huge disappointment (maybe even a nightmare). Those business owners who have already suffered from negative, defamatory reviews on the internet and who have seen with their own eyes their good reputation being publicly tarnished on the internet, have also realised that suddenly, the telephone stopped ringing. They have written letter after letter to the operators of review websites asking and even begging that they remove the defamatory review(s) or at least tell them who wrote the reviews; but they would agree to neither.
This raises the question, are the operators of review websites liable for defamation posted by anonymous users? The simple answer is yes. In most instances, the vast majority of website operators could find themselves liable to defamation. Their liability to the business owner starts from the moment they are notified of the defamation on their website. If the website operator then chooses to keep the defamatory review on their website, their liability for defamation is almost equal to that of the person who wrote the defamatory review, unless they can tell the business owner who the reviewer is and provide sufficient information to enable lawful service of legal documents on the defaming internet user. This risk of liability of website operators to defamation is real and substantial and if a website operator decides to ignore this risk, they do this at their own peril.
Sometimes the website operator will show that the business owner can respond to the defamatory review and put the record straight. They will say that this right to reply has been afforded to the business and therefore if the business refuses to post a reply to the defamatory review, it is their problem. Whilst this sounds like and an attractive argument on the part of the website operators, the law does not require you to post a reply to defamation. In fact, in some cases, if you post a reply to a defamatory online review, this could potentially harm your case for defamation because it might legitimise the online reviewer and the content of their review.
Furthermore, every time that you respond to a defamatory review, you make the review more visible on search engine results. Very often, the defamatory review will contain many inaccuracies or you may simply have no recollection of the incident complained of. Therefore, responding to a defamatory review on review website is unlikely to make things any better. Business owners do not have to respond to online reviews if they do not want to, and this does not change the liability of the website operator towards them.
Some website operators do get away with allowing defamatory online reviews to be published on their online platform. However, many others are do not. Fraudulent review websites, certainly should not get away with publishing fake online reviews. By now, we have dealt with dozens of different review websites, large and small. Many operators will remove the defamation after they receive the proper communications from a lawyer who should highlight their vulnerable legal position. Often the website operators will have to agree to remove the defamatory material from their website and to provide participate in a legal process which would enable them to hand ove user information without having to breach data protection laws.
Business owners who have been suffering from defamatory online reviews, should book a consultation one of our lawyers, after which, they will know exactly what they need to do to facilitate the removal of the defamatory online review from the internet. In less than one hour, we ask you a few key questions, examine online reviews about your company and provide a very, very revealing analysis of all of the options that are open to you to have reviews removed from the internet.
We will advise you on how to formulate a strategy for dealing with fraudulent review websites and with false online reviews and provide you with tips on how to make your telephone start ringing again. Business owner after business owner tells us “I had no idea I could remove those darned reviews” so get feel free to call us now and speak to one of our super friendly legal advisors who will guide you through the first steps of having defamatory online reviews removed from the internet.