Online Review Defamation: A Client Lied About Your Business. Now What?
Protecting your online reputation can be as difficult as winning the Tour de France…clean. So, what can businesses do when faced with online review defamation? Let’s take a look.
- First, ask yourself: “Is the review accurate?” This can be the hardest step. If the review is negative but true, the chances of remedying the situation with a defamation claim diminish considerably. Why? Well, under United States law, legal defamation requires falsity. Does this mean you can’t combat the negative review? No, it doesn’t. You can. (We’ll get to “the how” below.)
- Second, ask yourself another question: “Is the review fundamentally true, but grossly exaggerated?” Hyperbole, believe it or not, rarely passes the defamation sniff test. Sometimes, but not often. In the eyes of the law, reasonable people can distinguish hyperbolic speech from a false statement of fact. For example, an online reviewer condemns: “Mr. Widget’s Widgets are the WORST widgets in the world!” Mr. Widget is peeved about the review and threatens a defamation lawsuit. But the truth is, he probably wouldn’t win an online review defamation lawsuit, because “the worst company in the world,” is an exaggerated opinion and not tantamount to libel. Does this mean you can’t combat negative reviews? Again, no. (I promise we’ll get to how below.)
- Third, if your detractor did, indeed, make a false statement of fact in an online review, you may be able to sue for trade libel or defamation. That said, most online defamation situations rarely blossom into lawsuits. Attorney intervention usually does the trick; people often — and innocently — don’t realize they’ve crossed a legal line and just need reminding to remove it.
- If you’re confident a detractor made a false statement of fact, as opposed to a hyperbolic opinion, contact a lawyer. He or she can analyze the situation and help you work through questions like:
- Depending on details, should you send a letter, or use another marketing method, to squelch the effect of bad online reviews?
- Is the statement egregious enough to move forward with a full-fledged lawsuit? If yes, do you have enough evidence to effectively argue the case in court?
Find a attorney who will tell you, upfront, if your potential case is a dud or a stud.
Online Review Defamation: Consider This Before Suing
A difficult customer or client posts a scathing review, with a low truthiness quotient, on a popular site like Amazon, Yelp or Ripoff Report. What can you, the business owner, do?
You’ve got three options:
- Ignore the issue, letting the problem fester and grow.
- Work with an attorney to get the offending comments removed.
- Work with a marketing professional to neutralize the review’s negative effects.
According to this Forbes article, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. So ask yourself: do you want to sacrifice business by ignoring a damaging review? I’m sure we can all agree: doing nothing is unwise.
So, with option 1 out of the way, which is better: working with a lawyer or a marketer?
88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. So ask yourself: do you want to sacrifice business by ignoring a damaging review?
Deciding Between Marketing Fixes & Legal Solutions
Before deciding whether to deal with a damaging online review with marketing methods, legal tactics — or both — consider a few facts about U.S. defamation law.
- Thanks to a high-profile legal scuffle between a preacher and pornographer, satire and parody aren’t legally defamatory. Consider: did your detractor cloak disdain in satire or parody? Yes? Then you’re probably better off working with a marketer. (Chill Tip: In cases of satire and parody, consider laughing it off. Humorlessness and hyper sensitivity are not qualities consumers easily tolerate.)
- Is the statement an opinion? If yes, then it’s not defamatory under U.S. law. Comments like, “I hate this product!” or “John Doe is the WORST dentist I’ve ever used!” are opinions.
- Does putting “In my opinion” or “IMO” before a false statement of fact automatically make said statement an opinion? No. IMO is not a legal shield that confers defamation immunity on all who use it.
- What happens if an anonymous user posts a scathing review? You may be able to uncover their real identity. Click here to read more about the process.
- What does it take to win a U.S. defamation lawsuit? It’s difficult, but possible. In short, plaintiffs need to prove that contested statements are about them, in addition to falsity, harm, and a level of negligence. For a state-by-state defamation law analysis, go here.
You Have Options. Don’t Wait, Act. Solutions Are A Phone Call Away.
If your business has suffered because of an inflammatory review, and you’re ready to fight back, let’s talk.
Our team has helped hundreds of individuals — and businesses– pluck defamatory content off the Internet. And note, a lawsuit isn’t always nececcary to remedy an online review defamation issue.
Who are we? Kelly / Warner — a group of attorneys, with strong marketing connections, that excels at fixing online defamation problems. To learn more about us, head here.
Reclaim your reputation — and revenue flow. Get in touch today.