I often get calls from my E-Commerce clients that someone has posted a bad review and they want to know if they can sue the site or the poster. My client is usually very upset and thinks that this single review is going to kill their business.
While my reply to my clients is specific to their set of facts, there are many general rules and actions that apply to most situations:
- Can You Sue the Site? It is extremely rare for the site to be the villain and they are protected from the actions of their posters by Section 230 of the Computer Decency Act. It is only when the site engages in activities that invite the posting that you can sue the site – usually you can only go after the poster.
- Don’t Feed the Trolls – They Will Bite Back. When someone posts a negative review they are often just looking for attention. Do Not engage them online, it will only cause them to reply to your reply – often getting more nasty with each subsequent post. Further, it will make the thread more attractive to others to read.
- Check the Site’s TOS. Look to see if the poster has violated the site’s posting guidelines. If they have violated the site’s TOS, contact the site’s customer service department and ask that the post be removed.
- Is This a Real Review or a Faker? You need to try and deduce if the poster is truly a disgruntled customer, or rather a competitor or a competitor’s friend who is faking a bad review in hopes of helping themselves at your expense. If you decide it is truly a disgruntled customer I suggest an online apology with contact information for you to attend to their problem personally, but offline. Others who read the reviews will see that you attempted to solve the poster’s problem with personalized attention and this turns a negative review into a positive one as customers will see that you respond to complaints appropriately.
- What if the Post is Written by a Faker? If you decide the poster is not a customer, but rather a competitor out to hurt you, you can take many different actions depending on the facts. Defamation is still an actionable offense, but please understand that what you think is defamation may only be a person’s first amendment right to free speech. You will need to talk to your lawyer about whether the post is truly actionable. Writing a fake review is unlawful and in violation of the FTC truth in advertising regulations.
- Trademark and Copyright Violations. The post may contain trademark or copyright violations which will allow you a way to either get the post removed or to take legal action against the poster.
I hope this post helps you with any negative reviews. Calling on professionals in law, advertising or public relations is always a good idea when faced with a negative review you wish to address.