Consumers Posting Negative Reviews Could Face Legal Issues

By Mitch Lipka | January 7, 2013
Buisinesswoman screaming at her lap top

  • January 7, 2013 at 9:21 am
    LiveFree says:
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    Very interesting. I think without laws against blackmail, slander, and liable the market would correct itself in a way. Noone would just believe someone with an obvious gripe, they would be more skeptical. If anyone is interested in my point look up Walter Block’s book “Defending the Undefendable”. He does a good job explaining why blackmail and related charges should not be illegal in one of the chapters. Also the book overall is a very interesting read!

  • January 7, 2013 at 11:55 am
    youngin' says:
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    “The market” doesn’t have a solution for everything. These are reviews written by people you don’t know, so you should already be skeptical. The problem is that the information burden is not very high. If I go on to yelp and am trying to decide between 10 different restaurants and I only want to spend 5 minutes deciding, I am going to look at the number of stars and the first 2 or 3 reviews that show up under each restaurant. I am not taking financial advice from these people, I am just looking for help deciding where to go for lunch. So a couple of unfair negative reviews carry a lot of weight even if they are coming from someone you don’t know.

    More work should go in to selecting a contractor, but then again, if there are 20 plumbers in the area and you just have a clogged drain, how much effort are you really going to put into the decision? If 15 of them have negative feedback and 5 of them don’t, are you really going to consider all 20 of them?

    A lot of negative feedback may be justified, but libel is not. I hope some good court precedents are set and that small businesses who suffer the most from this kind of thing are better able to defend themselves. They need to make sure they don’t cross the line into SLAPP territory though.

  • January 7, 2013 at 2:04 pm
    Dave says:
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    This is a tough one to deal with. I am all for free speech, but am against slander, libel and blackmail. There usually is no way to determine if criticsm of a vendor is legitimate or not. Those who willfully slam a vendor with false accusations need to have some disincentives to lie. I just don’t know how to legislate it.

  • January 7, 2013 at 2:35 pm
    Lynn says:
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    The defense to slander/libel is the truth. If you word your critisism carefully, and without too much embellishment, then you should be on safe ground. While most people would not think to do so, keep a ‘paper’ trail so to speak if you are not getting the service you paid or are paying for. Evidence should be able to speak for itself. If you’ve been made false promises, get them in writing, document your discussions with the vendor, so that if/when they would ever try to bring action against you for negative publicity, you have a valid defense.

    • January 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm
      Dave says:
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      Lynn, your advise to defend an accuser of having made legitimate accusations is fine. But what about the service/product provider who has been given illegitimate criticism? What would be their recourse? As the article mentions, suing those who make false accusations is difficult and rare. I view this as an incredibly difficult balancing act.

      This kind of reminds me of the Kobe Bryant case a few years ago. That hotel worker entered his room and they had sex. She said it was forced, he said it was consensual. One of them was lying through their teeth and deserves to rot in hell. I just don’t know which one?

      • January 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm
        Lynn says:
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        Dave- understand your concerns which are valid. I am not against vendors taking action *(whatever action they feel is needed), I was only pointing out that as a consumer, it is our duty to report less than honest vendors. If I were a vendor defending my reputation, I would essentially prove them wrong- it may cost me money but I would attempt to clear my name. I am not promoting slandering a business, but word of mouth carries far. In that vein, if there is more than one complaint of a similar nature, one would suspect some truth to it. Sadly, I am speaking of ‘reasonable’ people that have a legitimate gripe- note the word ‘reasonable’. If my business were harmed by untrue statements, then I too would take action of some type.

        • January 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm
          Dave says:
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          Lynn, you and I are reasonable people. As I go through life I see more and more unreasonable people. Like the guy I yelled at for driving the wrong way down a one way street who stopped his car, got out of the car and suggested we discuss the issue. You call that a reasonable guy? I kept driving accepting the fact that, that clown was beyond redemption.

          • January 7, 2013 at 3:17 pm
            Lynn says:
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            Dave- you’re preaching to the choir. I’ve been in claims for years, handle litigation and pretty much ‘see it all’. Reasonable folks are at a minimum these days. My point is that there should be a forum for disgruntled consumers that is legit – can it be done? Unclear at this juncture. Glad you weren’t harmed in your ‘discussion’. As a woman, I have been ‘called out’ as well for other’s driving errors- you see they don’t discriminate these days in their stupidity. Be well

  • January 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm
    Wyagent says:
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    I have no problem with consumers voicing their opinion. I had a situation where a company denied a claim, as they should have, and the claimant took after me (as the agent) with the Insurance Department and BBB. When both complaints were dismissed as I had done nothing, this crazy woman started an online bashing of me personally. Fortunately she is from a foreign country and her ranting tirade was full of word misuse, spelling errors and crazy accusations claiming a conspiracy between me the the company, the Ins Dept and the BBB. So it was easy to see she had no basis. We had another one where it was clear the person writing it was either drunk or high and again, easy to tell it had no merit. But The postings are still there and potential customers see them. Getting them removed is almost impossible. We should all be accountable for our actions and there needs to be retribution when crazy people take after anyone with fabricated info or lies.

    • January 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm
      Lynn says:
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      I agree on your end- I fully understand (I am in claims). I would trust that potential customers are able to see through the ‘complaints’ for what they are – garbage. A real prospect should be able to understand that and you also have your client base of satisfied people to support you.

      • January 7, 2013 at 3:24 pm
        Dave says:
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        Some claims are difficult to show as garbage, especially the out and out lies. Both sides needs to have fairly strong disincentives to do the wrong thing. Vendors need to be disincentivized to provide poor products and services and consumers need to be disincentivized to provide false or inaccurate accusations. I think the first is pretty well handled by the courts and vendors trying to protect their reputations. Strong disincentives. False accusations however have very few disincentives. Now that has to be weighed against their right to free speech. But is doesn’t mean they should be able to illegitimately walk all over vendors. I read a restaurant review on Yelp about a nearby place I frequent and really like. The customer was upset because they were seated at a “bad” table. Well hell, the table was in the restaurant. Somebody had to sit there. If it wasn’t her, it would have been somebody else. Apparently for some reason she felt she deserved better than some other schmuck. Well every once in a while we end up with a less than desirable table, especially on a Friday or Saturday night when the place is packed. Get over it. But don’t give a restaurant a crappy review over it.

  • January 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm
    Lynn says:
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    I agree- I frequent a restaurant that I’ve read poor review on (ironically it was on Yelp as well).
    They cut everything down, the food, service, etc. I have only had one bad meal there- (Christmas eve) but it was close to closing, everyone was probably headed home and it wasn’t horrific. Did I write a bad review? No- I felt bad for the waitress (who was mortified that SHE sent my food back the first time). Does it happen? Yes. Perhaps of some of the sites would take the time to do a little research before publishing the complaints it would help sort through the ‘truths’ and b.s. that’s out there. I loathe to use the word ‘regulate’ but the sites should take some responsibility for the forum they are providing as well

    • January 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm
      Dave says:
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      The beautiful thing about most of those sites and their most redeeming quality is that they are unfiltered. I guess they need to have some kind of resolution procedure for “unfair” reviews. Not sure how that would work as you need a truly impartial judge. Now that I’m older and it’s too late to change careers, I wish I had become an arbitrator as I feel I have a certain sense of seeing both sides of an argument. Although being in claims I’m sure you know the best arbitration is between the two parties in dispute if both are truly reasonable.

      • January 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm
        Marcus says:
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        The resolution procedure for unfair reviews that is used by travelocity is to permit the businessowner to post a reply that will be displayed directly below the consumer’s review. But neither is filtered. Seeing the content, objectivity, and language used in the complaint and reply, most readers can distinguish who is being unfair to whom.

  • January 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm
    Old Broker says:
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    And now after a brief pause, back to the Lynn and Dave show!!!!!!

    • January 8, 2013 at 10:53 am
      Lynn says:
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      Sorry if our comments offended or amused you. I will think twice before adding anything from this point on.

      • January 8, 2013 at 10:56 am
        youngin' says:
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        Lighten up Lynn! Your and Dave’s level of discourse is way above average for the comments section on this site.

        • January 8, 2013 at 11:25 am
          Lynn says:
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          Thanks- hard to read (intent) in text. Interesting topic though- no real answer at this point however.

          • January 8, 2013 at 11:29 am
            Dave says:
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            I’m done, but nice chatting with you Lynn.

  • January 7, 2013 at 3:46 pm
    Lynn says:
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    Agreed. That word again, reasonable. Sadly, I suspect we’ve gotten to the point in our society where we are so information driven that people fail to (or choose not to) verify. How many people believe everything they read (on the internet) to be true? I’ll always stick with my guns, trust, then verify. But you are correct, there needs to be some filtering system or the sites themselves will lose their credibility as well.

    • January 8, 2013 at 10:50 am
      youngin' says:
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      Lynn, I don’t think this is the same issue at all. Technology has only exacerbated a problem which has been around a long time. It used to be very difficult for a disgruntled customer to reach enough people with their message to damage your business, as in standing outside your business with a picket sign. Now, all they need to do is post a bad review of your business on a prominent website.

      Furthermore, I don’t think the information age has decreased our ability to filter out untrue statements as I hear people claim. Unfortunately I think the opposite is true: people’s filters are always working overtime now, it’s exhausting and makes one cynical.

  • January 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm
    John K says:
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    If you have personal injury coverage, it should cover defamation. I have that on my umbrella policy, and most companies offer it as a rider to the homeowners insurance.

  • January 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm
    John K says:
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    My companies privacy policy does not allow me to comment or respond to reviews. I can not even say someone is a client.So, there is no way for me to respond to anything a client says online, in public.

  • January 9, 2013 at 8:33 am
    SusieQinthe Midwest (In WI) says:
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    We all need to use common sense and discretion when reading any review. I guess its easier for me as I deal with people who are, shall we say, less than pleasant everyday. I know how easily people get stained on, and then, they like to rant. (And rant and rant and rant) Writing a review is one thing, but when someone starts getting into liable/slander/defamation territory, that’s when I stop reading. I don’t take anyone seriously when they review goes from informative to a verbal bashing extravaganza.

  • January 9, 2013 at 4:03 pm
    Desert Rat says:
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    YELP DOES Filter some reviews from people. Mostly looks like they filter them if they get too many good reviews. They are a joke!!



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