Online Reviews – What Not to Post

 

12 December 2017
Posted by Jennifer Tutty

 

For better or worse, social media is here to stay and all of our reputations are more vulnerable than we might like to think.  In this blog we take a look at online reviews and how to stay on the right side of the law.

The law of untruthful reviews

Defamation occurs where something is published (such as an online review) which would lower the reputation of the subject in the eyes of a reasonable person. The publication of that review might cause other people to think less of the target, or to shun, ridicule or avoid them.

But did you know that companies with 10 or more full-time equivalent employees cannot be defamed, with only very limited exceptions?  However, if a post identifies or “is referable to” a particular staff member or group of people, those individuals might have separate claims for defamation.

Most companies over this size limit have much more restricted access to laws to protect their reputations. They must rely not on defamation, but on a separate tort known as “injurious falsehood”. As you might have guessed from the name, the statement must be “false” in order for a claim to succeed.

So what if you get a bad review?

First and foremost, you need to act quickly to reduce the negative impact the review can have on your or your business.

Most social media websites or online publications have terms and conditions that state that users are not able to post defamatory, illegal, discriminatory, harassing or similar content to their platforms.  So if you believe that a review or other post is any of those things, you should immediately contact the platform for assistance and demand that they immediately remove the post.  Hopefully they will be in a position to assist!

It’s also important to contact the author if they can be identified and demand that they immediately remove the post.

If the above steps do not get you anywhere and you are desperate to have the post removed, then it might be time to get in touch with your lawyer to send a stern cease and desist letter.

So what if I want to post a bad review?

There can be serious repercussions if you post defamatory content about another person or its business.  We have seen some big bucks being paid out for online defamation cases in Australia.  For example, the owners of the closed ‘Coco Roco’ were awarded $600,000 in damages after the Sydney Morning Herald published the following review – click here to read.

To avoid a potential defamation or injurious falsehood claim, make sure your review meets these simple guidelines:

– The review should be truthful and honestly reflect your own experiences;
– You should not have any ulterior motive in writing the review and refrain from writing in a malicious manner; and
– Your intention should not be to damage the reputation of the business or any person working in the business or to encourage others to avoid using the relevant business.

Can I get my mates to post good reviews?

On the flip side, you will want to think twice about getting your mates or other people to post a heap of amazing reviews.

The ACCC reminds us that ‘businesses and review platforms that do not remove reviews that they know to be fake, risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010’.  Read more from the ACCC here.

To ensure your business does not infringe the Australian Consumer Law, follow these tips:

– Do not ask your friends and family to write reviews about your business without disclosing their personal interest;
– People should not post positive reviews about your business, when they have not actually experienced the goods and/or services offered by your business;
– Be careful you do not offer incentives to people to write positive reviews about your business, when they have not experienced the goods and/or services offered by your business; and
– Be careful when deleting or editing bad reviews and keeping the good ones, if you only keep the good ones, you may be seen to be misleading the public.

Do you need advice on defamation? Please email us at hello@studiolegal.com.au, or call us on 03 9521 2128.

DISCLAIMER

The information in this article is of a general nature. It does not constitute formal legal advice, and should not be relied on as such. Please see the full disclaimer in our website terms. Please contact Studio Legal if you are seeking advice about a specific legal matter.