Product or service reviews are common occurrences when operating a business. Consumers express their opinions of a product or service in writing on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor, Ripoff Report, or social media. These reviews provide feedback to suppliers and give other consumers real insight into the product or service.
A company need not have an online presence to receive an online review, whether that review is positive or negative. However, negative reviews have a wide reach and have the potential to damage a brand or a business extensively. Thus, they must be handled effectively.
Reviewers are protected by the First Amendment, which allows freedom of expression. Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) legislation also curtails businesses and other organizations from threatening this right. Furthermore, in 2016 the Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed, giving consumers the right to honestly review a business’ product, service, or conduct online without penalty.
A company’s PR team can handle most negative online reviews effectively. Nevertheless, some reviews are considered defamatory and require the services of an experienced internet lawyer to be taken down.
Negative Review vs. Defamation
The difference between defamation and a bad review is not always easy to discern. A negative review should reflect a user’s genuine experience of, or opinion about, a product or service. If, however, a reviewer falsifies an experience or makes untrue statements about a product or its supplier with malicious intent, this is considered defamation and is grounds for legal action.
Involving a lawyer early in the process can help businesses evaluate a negative review appropriately. They can advise companies on the viability of a case and the next steps, particularly if the review is deemed defamatory (see Ripoff Report Removal). Adept internet lawyers can often convince websites to remove a negative review in the early stages of a case once they demonstrate that the review is defamatory.
Cease and Desist Letters
Lawyers often serve cease and desist letters as an alternative to defamation lawsuits. The letters request that reviewers remove reviews that are defamatory – or borderline defamatory – or face a potential lawsuit. Cease and desist letters are not legal documents but are best prepared with a lawyer’s input so as to avoid any negative repercussions to the business.
Defamation is not a criminal offense, and a reviewer will not face criminal charges for posting comments that are considered defamatory. Rather, defamation is a tort or civil wrong. A lawyer can file a lawsuit against a reviewer on behalf of an individual or business in a civil court to recover damages. However, the burden of proof in a defamation lawsuit is on the plaintiff or complainant. They must be able to prove that:
- The negative review contains false statements of fact
- The review was published and viewed by a third party
- A reasonable person would understand that the negative review concerns them or the business
- They or the business suffered losses or other injuries
Defamation lawsuits can be lengthy, expensive, and hard to prove. Companies should consider them only after all other options have failed or if reviews are extremely harmful to the business.
Manage Negative Reviews With an Internet Lawyer in Scottsdale
If not effectively managed, defamatory reviews can be detrimental to a business. If you are concerned about negative reviews targeted at you or your business, contact us at RM Warner Law. Our internet defamation lawyers will evaluate your situation and provide viable options to combat negative reviews. Speak with one of our internet lawyers online today or call us toll-free at 1-866-570-8585 to discuss your case.
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