Sometimes, people are so upset with the services or goods they received or purchased from small or new businesses that they choose to exact their revenge via the Internet. It is not enough for them to just stop patronizing the businesses or report the businesses to the Better Business Bureau. Like berserk warriors out for blood, these angry consumers want to annihilate the businesses who failed to meet their standards or exceed their expectations. So they publish bad online reviews. Their desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, or smart phones become their weapons of mass destruction. Like generals far removed from battle, they launch their attacks from the comforts of their office chairs at home or work. Some have the courage to sign their real names to their bad reviews. Many don’t.
Destructive Internet reviews can lead to defamation lawsuits. Small and new businesses are usually harmed most by bad Internet reviews. A few really nasty reviews can significantly decrease their revenues and profits. If an Internet review is bad enough, it can even put a small or new businesses out of business, forcing its owners and the people it employs to look for new jobs.
A First Amendment proponent, I believe people have the right to say or write just about anything they want to say or write as long as they are expressing their opinions, telling the truth, and not seriously endangering others. But I don’t believe anyone should expect to get away with knowingly publishing lies or negligently publishing falsehoods on the Internet about small or new businesses.
People who maliciously lie or negligently publish falsehoods about small and new businesses can wreak havoc on local economies and cause good people to lose their jobs without justification. Those who do it and get caught can become defendants in defamation lawsuits. Those who do it and don’t get caught get away with destructive and unlawful behavior that benefits no one, deceives the public, and unjustly harms good people and their families.
Here are five tips for good people who are seriously considering publishing bad reviews about small or new businesses on the Internet.
TIP 1 – COOL OFF
Cool off for a week. It can wait a week. If you still have a burning desire to take down a small or new business and its employees with your scathing Internet review, then read the other four tips before you launch your assault.
TIP 2 – CONTACT THE BUSINESS
Contact the small or new business you are considering destroying and give it an opportunity to make it right or convince you that whatever made you want to destroy it was just a misunderstanding or a fluke.
TIP 3 – INVESTIGATE YOUR ALLEGATIONS
Investigate the allegations you intend to publish and obtain documentary proof to support your allegations before you publish a bad online review about a small or new business. If you are sued, you can hand over your evidence to your insurance defense attorney (if you have a homeowners’, business, or umbrella insurance policy that will pay for your legal defense). If you fail to obtain proof to support your defamatory statements before you publish them, you might make it easier for the business that sues you for defamation to win.
TIP 4 – READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE/USE CONTRACT
TIP 5 – GET LEGAL ADVICE
Ask an attorney who has experience litigating defamation lawsuits to review the statement you plan to publish about the small or new business. If that defamation attorney is unable to talk you out of publishing your nasty review, he or she will tell you whether your statement will be considered an opinion or a provably false assertion of fact if you are sued for defamation. A defamation attorney should also be able to help you determine what types of First Amendment defenses you will be able to assert and what types of legal privileges you might have if you are sued. He or she can help you review your insurance policies so you will be able to predict whether you will have to pay a defense attorney tens of thousands of dollars out of your own pocket if the business decides it has no better option than to sue you for defamation. Finally, the defamation attorney should be able to help you predict how much defending a defamation lawsuit will probably cost you if your insurance company refuses to pick up the tab for your legal defense fees.
By Ed Hopkins, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2014. All rights reserved.