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Dealing with Bad Reviews Online

Internet review platforms like Yelp have provided a voice for any customer to broadcast their experience with a company to the world at large. While this benefits companies that receive consistently strong reviews, it also allows a small number of dissatisfied customers to do serious damage to a company’s reputation and its bottom line. As a result, many companies are looking for legal options for handling these sorts of negative reviews online. Companies may have a variety of options available including taking advantage of third-party website procedures, bringing lawsuits, or using non-legal means. However, which of these options are open depends on whether the review is merely bad or actually defamatory.

Two Types of Reviews

An important precursor to a company’s options for handling a bad review is determining whether the review actually crosses the line into defamation. The law is wary of allowing private parties to use legal tools to prevent customers from discussing legitimate grievances. Consequently, many legal options are only available to deal with defamatory reviews.

The legal test for determining whether something is defamatory involves three prongs. First, the statement must made must be actually false. Statements like “The food was terrible” are opinions that fall outside of defamation law. Conversely, “The restaurant purposefully put allergens in my food” would be a factual statement that could be demonstrated to be true or false. Second, the statement must be negligently published to at least one other person, such as on a website or blog. Third, it must be the sort of statement that would harm the business’ reputation.

Third-Party Site Procedures

One common tactic that companies can use to deal with bad reviews is to take advantage of takedown procedures provided by third-party sites that host reviews. Sites like Yelp, Twitter and Google all have processes in place for companies to complain about improper reviews that they are hosting on their site. However, not all bad reviews can be taken down through these processes.

Generally speaking, the takedown procedures only work when the review violates the hosting website’s terms of service. For instance, Yelp’s Terms of Service forbid things like defamation, harassment, and extortion. If a business can demonstrate that a review falls into one of these categories, then they can often get the review taken down with relative ease.

Lawsuits

However, not all bad reviews are posted on these sorts of third-party sites, and there are times when the sites are not being cooperative. In these instances, people may be able to bring a lawsuit, if the review meets the qualifications for defamation. However, businesses should consider the potential for these sorts of lawsuits to backfire, often resulting in worse publicity than the original review.

Non-Legal Responses

Businesses also have the option of using a non-legal response and engaging with the customer. While some negative reviews are left by competitors or strangers, many arise out of specific complaints with the company. A responsive company can often deal with these complaints and turn a bad review into a good one.

The proper response to a negative review online will depend on a variety of factors. If your company is dealing with a bad review, contact a Florida business litigation attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today.

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