As the internet has grown, businesses have had to contend with a multitude of websites that allow users to post reviews of their experience with a business. One of the most popular consumer-review websites is Yelp. Its understandable that every business will have a few dissatisfied customers, but what if a dissatisfied customer posts a negative review that is full of lies?
It is difficult enough for a business to deal with negative reviews that are truthful, but there are only two options for dealing with a negative review that is a lie: If the lie is not particularly scathing, the business could respond to the review; or, if the lie if is so harmful to your reputation that you believe it will harm your business, you can sue the reviewer for defamation (or at least threaten to do so.)
In order to prove defamation in this scenario, it must be shown that:
Earlier this year, in Virginia, a jury found that a homeowner defamed her contractor when she posted two reviews stating that the contractor botched her home renovation and stole from her. The sole reason the contractor was not awarded the $750,000 he should have won was because the jury found that the contractor also defamed the homeowner in responding to her negative reviews with accusations. This case opened the eyes of many business owners across the country.
Yelp has correctly stated that "litigation is not a good substitute for customer service," and business should only sue for defamation as a last resort. In this scenario, filing suit should only be reserved for blatant and serious lies.
Further, the idea of being sued for defamation may be enough to encourage the posting-user to take down their false damaging comment. As long as the business could have a conceivable defamation suit against the user, it may be more cost-effective for a business to have an attorney send a letter to the user demanding the removal of the comment, or otherwise be sued for defamation. However, this strategy should not be abused to suppress truthful free speech.
Businesses have a difficult enough time finding ways to manage and appropriately respond to truthful negative reviews online. They should not be subject to harmful lies as well, without recourse.
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