Stop me if this sounds familiar. A past customer has just written a malicious review about you or your company on Google. The review, however, is neither a fair nor accurate portrayal of your company or the services offered to your customers. Rather, the bad review crosses the line from “constructive criticism” to outright false accusations.
In today’s world, it’s no secret that websites like Google, Angie’s List, and Ripoff Report thrive off a system of allowing users to share their everyday experiences with a particular business or professional services company. Yet, in a world where around 40% of the world’s population has an Internet connection, a business or professional’s online reputation can be fortified or destroyed with just a handful of keystrokes and a couple clicks. This evolution of the Internet as a promotional device and customer acquisition tool has left many business owners wondering, What do I do when I receive a false or unfair review on Google?
(You may be thinking, Okay, STOP. Now tell me what I’m supposed to do!)
For starters, if you or your company has been a victim of an unfair or unjust online review on Google, you have several options, and, despite what you may think, filing a lawsuit against the person who posted the review is not first on the list.
Sure, filing suit is generally the first thing that comes to the minds of many frustrated business owners, but it’s not your only recourse. Most of the time, people in your position simply want the bad review off the Internet.
Before you sue, see what else you can do
While word-of-mouth advertising is nothing new, the Internet has made it so that even the most erroneous and incoherent reviews are afforded a certain degree of credibility and immortality. Whether it’s a snide comment about your prices or a misleading description of your services, these online reviews are out there for the world to see and, despite your best efforts, are taken seriously by potential customers. Moreover, because removing reviews could potentially be a violation of free speech, many websites like Google aren’t willing to remove user reviews, giving prolonged life to what can only be described as fallacies masquerading as fact.
That said, Google does offer business owners several options before they might be forced to result to litigation.
First, users can flag a review as inappropriate, in hopes that Google will determine the review violates its policies and remove it. However, since Google receives countless requests to evaluate reviews daily, business owners may not want to place too much faith in Google’s “flagging” process.
Second, Google claims it will “remove reviews that represent personal attacks on others.” Thus, in the event someone posts a review that targets you or your business personally, Google may remove the review after it conducts its own analysis.
Third, Google allows business owners with an account to reply to the review directly for the purpose of refuting any false allegations and/or misrepresentations of fact. However, simply replying to a review may lead to a potential back-and-forth between you and the reviewer, which can lead to further negative remarks and frustration.
Court orders and declaratory judgments
If all other options have been exhausted, a business owner seeking to remove a negative or defamatory review from Google must obtain a judgment from a court declaring the statements in a review are false. They must then present the court order to Google for it to remove the relevant URLs from its index.
While many websites may suggest that the process of obtaining the requisite court order is clear-cut or, dare I say, “easy,” in reality, the process is much more complex then one would imagine. In brief, the process involves drafting and sending subpoenas to appropriate parties; discovering the identity of the reviewer (if anonymous); drafting a complaint, filing that complaint in the proper court; conducting discovery; and negotiating with opposing counsel, and that’s only the beginning. Furthermore, it is essential that your lawsuit is legally sound, or you may risk being faced with an anti-SLAPP motion. Therefore, this step — litigation — is one that will probably be best done through an attorney.
Did someone post an unjust bad review about you?
If you or someone you know is faced with a particularly inappropriate or potentially defamatory review, it is important to know your rights and what you can do to protect you or your business’s reputation. Don’t go at it alone. The law firm of Cynthia Conlin & Associates has experienced defamation lawyers who may be able to help you with your slander or libel questions. Contact our Orlando attorneys today by calling 407-965-5519.