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An Online Review Can Be An Open Door to Lawsuits

Most of us are familiar with online review sites, such as YELP, Google, Nextdoor and TripAdvisor.  What we are not so familiar with are the rules and guidelines we should be following as we make comments and post reviews on these sites. Did you know you can be sued for writing a review online?  Whether the review is positive or negative, you can be sued for writing a review online if it is not based on verifiable information. Here are some tips you should follow if you are going to make a public review on these digital platforms.

What Are Consumer Review Sites For? 

Consumer review sites were designed to help consumers sift through a large number of competing businesses. Between brick-and-mortar storefronts and online shopping experiences, it is difficult to determine where we should spend our money and which types of businesses we should support.  Online review sites, such as YELP and Google allow us to get direct consumer reviews from other people that have visited the business.

Customer Satisfaction Rating

Customer Satisfaction Rating

As time has passed, consumers have become incredibly dependent on online reviews.  Before we are willing to visit a new shop, book a hotel room, or make reservations at a local restaurant, we check out what sort of feedback people have left online.  When the negative reviews outweigh the positive reviews, we skip the business and check out what other options are out there.  The business of getting good online reviews has become competitive, and expensive for many small and mid-sized businesses.  However, without the reviews, consumers tend to overlook the business for one that has a digital presence. There is no question that online reviews are important. However, it is a bit of a double-edged sword. No reviews may mean no business, while too many reviews, especially when they are not complimentary, can also reduce customers.

Bold Online Reviews Can Cause Problems

5 Star Review

5 Star Review

As consumers, online review sites are a place where we can develop a voice and share our experiences to help our peers.  It can be a fun, and empowering experience.  What we do know about online behavior is that often, we tend to be a bit bolder online than we are in real-life.  This means our reviews may be a bit more aggressive, exaggerated, or embellished.  And although it may feel good to vent after a less than ideal meal or celebrate the opening of a friend’s new establishment with a bit more zeal than is accurate, bold reviews can cause problems.

Online Reviews Are Big Business

online review

online review

Because consumer reviews are such big business and online reviews are imperative to the success of many local businesses, reviewers may get a bit overzealous in their reviews on the keyboard.

Reviews that are not grounded in true, verifiable experiences can cause major problems. First, for businesses, one unhappy customer who writes an exaggerated account of their experience may detract other customers from visiting the location.  Many of the negative reviews that are left come off as defamatory rants and even abusive in many cases. For many businesses, this can be detrimental to the business staying open.

1 Star Review

1 Star Review

On the other hand, because reviews are so important, other business owners may pay someone to write positive reviews of their business. However, just like false negative reviews, false, positive reviews set up a fake expectation for consumers. This practice of fabricated reviews is in poor taste, and quite frankly, goes against the rules of the review sites.

Even worse?  It can be against the law. People who are writing unfounded claims on review sites are getting sued.

SLAPP Lawsuits Are More Common Than You Think

SLAPP lawsuits are becoming more and more common.  SLAPP is short for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  These lawsuits are being brought against unscrupulous online reviewers who are cited as being slanderous to business proprietors.

Here are Real-Life Examples:

 

Dallas News: Bride, groom who slammed Dallas wedding photographer online, in media must pay $1.08M

CBS News:  Posting a negative review online can get you sued

CNBC: Can you get sued over a negative Yelp review? Here’s what you need to know

ABC News: Yelp Sues Firm Over Allegedly Posting Fake Reviews

Houston Food Finder: When Consumer Reviews Go Too Far: Threats, Lies and Videotape

 

 

Negative Online Review

Negative Online Review

Many consumers post online reviews, and most business owners accept that with good reviews, comes the bad.  However, it is becomingly more common that people are making reviews that go too far.  As reviewers, we might claim we have first amendment rights and are free to openly review and publish our thoughts. However, when the reviews are not honest and claims are exaggerated, embellished, or flat our fabricated, first amendment rights go out the window.

Businesses are beginning to fight back against dishonest online reviewers.  There is an ever-increasing list of businesses who have won these anti-slander and defamation suits. It is important for consumers to remember that a business can sue you for a dishonest review and you could become responsible for reimbursement of legal fees, damages to business and still have to pay your own legal fees.

Legal Concerns Online

Legal Concerns Online

Protect Yourself Online

There are simple steps you can take to protect yourself while you are writing online reviews.

First, if a company, person, or product upsets you, do not immediately post your review.  Take a few days to calm down, process the experience and maybe even speak to the business owner.  When we write reviews in the heat of the moment, we often say things we regret later.

Second, ensure your review is based on facts. Although it can be satisfying to exaggerate, embellish or add flavorful language to your review, it can make your experience false and set you up for being liable in a defamation lawsuit.

Fake or Fact

Fake or Fact

Third, use good judgment.  Be truthful and make sure your review truly reflects your genuine experience.  Keep in mind, one imperfection in your experience does not make the entire establishment or product line bad. Everyone had bad days – even people in the service industry.  If your experience was really negative, be objective and phrase your review in a way for people to act with caution.  Remember, a review is not a platform to vent and make yourself feel better.   Being respectful is important, especially when someone’s livelihood is on the line.  Offer constructive criticism, but not a personal rant.

Take The High Road Writing Online Reviews

Taking the high road in online reviews is important.  Not only will it protect you, as an online reviewer, but it will improve your online reviews!  Plus, honest reviews will allow your experience to truly guide others.  If you are unsure if your review falls on the side of defamation, it might be a good idea to step back and wait before you post.  The best way to improve the quality of online review sites is to make sure your reviews are honest and authentic.

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