Legal action for negative review
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Can a company take legal action for a negative review
A company may take legal action for a negative online review if the company can prove that the online review is defamatory and that the review is likely to cause the company serious financial harm. However, defamation is not the only course of action that a company can take for a bad review. If the review has been posted maliciously, you can be sued for malicious falsehood instead of for defamation.
You might be able to sue Google or TrustPilot for a negative online review, which is defamatory or malicious. But before doing this, you are advised to take a number of steps because the court will usually expect you to try and sue the person who published the bad review first. Review websites serve a practical purpose which isn't always to serve the public good. Review websites are either industry specific or multi area. Industry specific review websites, such as specific to the house removal industry or to estate agents, should be viewed with some suspicious because in many cases, those specific industry review websites are operated as a marketing tool on behalf of a commercially interested entity.
These type of online review websites try to create an impression that they are balanced and neutral whilst in fact they are there to enhance the reputation of those who own them and demote the reputation of the competition. Some online review websites create an image of a service for the public good whilst in fact, they are commercial enterprises, which are anything but altruistic. Their commodity is often the reputation of the businesses being reviewed and they often trade with that commodity freely. Review websites often claim to have a right to publish without responsibility for content. This claim is false; in many cases operators of review websites are also the publishers and often the editors of the posts and are therefore liable to you for defamation. Review websites are either industry specific or are categorised into various sectors. Special care and attention should be given to the former as conflict of interest issues can arise, most notably if the website owner also operates commercially within that sector. These online review websites are purely commercial enterprises.
Despite all their altruistic efforts about being there to help protect the little swimmer from the circling sharks, they are not, this is just marketing propaganda. Remember, these sites are there to make money, their commodity is your reputation and it’s free of charge. If a business can show that it had been targeted by an operator of a review website that isn't operating fairly and which is serving the commercial interest of a competitor, there would be a reasonable case to consider taking against the operator of the review website legal action for defamation or for malicious falsehood.
The volume of anonymous online reviews on a particular online review website, might give business owner a good indication whether the website operators are taking part in an unfair practice resulting in unfair bad reviews on their website. Not all review websites require a reviewer to register with them by providing an email address and a username.
Even those that do, will rarely seek to verify that email address; and, of course, as an email address can be obtained without any identification, having an email address registered to a user account could be meaningless. However, if following a disclosure application a business owner finds that there is a large number of bad online reviews, which cannot be matched with a real person, this could provide a good indication that many of the bad reviews about the business are fabricated, possibly by the review website operators.
With very few exceptions, online review websites make little or no effort to verify whether a review is genuine. A few review sites provide information fields for the reviewer to place a unique identifier such as a job number or an invoice number. However, these fields are hardly ever mandatory. Whilst the first step for a business owner in identifying whether an online review is real to try and match the customers experience as described in the online review with a real transaction, this task could be extremely difficult, particularly in places such as restaurants.
The next step to identify whether an online review is real, is to read what is actually being said and work out whether the type of allegations are the sort of things that could possibly have happened to a real customer in relation to the particular business. For example, if the business recently fired a rude waiter, and the complaint is about rudeness, it would make sense that the complaint on the review website is real. At the same time, if the restaurant is well established and the waiters are professionals and have been working there for many years, and never had a complaint of this nature directed at them, this would be an indication that the online review is not real.
Another example would be if there are allegations that a guest in a hotel saw a mouse running in the dining room but no such complaint had ever been received, this again would indicate that the online review is not real, because one would expect a complain of this nature to be communicated to the management there and then. As a last resort, to be able to find out if an online review is real, the business owner can always obtain a disclosure order which would compel the website operators to disclose details of the circumstances under which the online review was posted, including IP addresses, times of the day when the online reviews had been posted, names, linked email addresses and other useful information.
There are different estimations of the percentage of online reviews that are fake. Data provided by online review websites suggest that the number of fake online reviews ranges between twenty precent (Yelp.com) to sixty percent (Amazon.com) Our own estimation which is based on nearly 200 cases of complaints about fake online reviews, is that the real number of fake online is sixty to sixty five percent. In many cases reviewers must agree to a set of terms and conditions, which usually include agreeing, amongst other things, not to write anything defamatory or fake.
Unfortunately, it is clear that the vast majority of reviewers have no idea what constitutes defamation (calling people a "bunch of crooks" is surprisingly common!) and that what in fact constitutes “fake” is also not always so straight forward. Online review websites operators often attempt to disclaim liability for fake online reviews by virtue of the reviewer’s declaration. They may believe this protects them; however they are wrong.
The online review website is, in fact, publishing all that the reviewers write and are therefore, potentially liable in law for any defamation contained therein. A growing number of negative online reviews are malicious and bear little or no relation to a fair, balanced and honest appraisal of the experience of the review with the company they are writing about. As a result, we are seeing sharp increases in incidents of organisations being seriously defamed. This means that more businesses consider their options and the possibility of taking legal action for a negative review, when the negative review is also defamatory or malicious. There are a number of steps, however, that the business owners are advised to take before embarking on a full scale legal action in relation to a negative online review. These need to be considered carefully on a case by case basis.