With the number of social media defamation cases on the rise, Ben Jenkins, Dispute Resolution Partner at HardingEvans and specialist in Defamation Claims, explains how defamatory reviews online can lead to legal action.
Gone are the days when business owners rely solely on word of mouth for recommendations for their business.
The rise of social media as a means of communication means that reviews, good or bad, reach a much wider audience and at a much faster pace. While most reviews are genuine, there will be occasions when negative reviews are posted out of malice, they might be untrue and slanderous to you or your business and there is very little you can do to remove the reviews on the sites themselves.
Although the total number of reported defamation cases in the UK is at the lowest level since 2008/9, a study by Thomson Reuters found that social media is the only area where defamation cases are continuing to increase, with an 18% rise in cases since last year.
So what is the difference between a negative comment and a defamatory comment? Put simply, a comment becomes defamatory when the reviewer has posted an untruth or is deliberately misleading the reader.
We have advised clients in cases where negative reviews have been posted by people who have not had a relationship directly with the business concerned, but for whatever reason felt it appropriate to vent their own or another person’s frustrations online.
While all businesses can expect some level of criticism from time to time; as the old adage goes “you can’t please everyone!”, defamation that is likely to cause serious financial and reputational damage to a business may need more forceful and immediate action and you might want to consider legal advice.
You can report the review to the operator of the site e.g. Google/Facebook following their normal reporting steps but generally no action will be taken unless the comment breaks Facebook’s general house rules. This is when you can consider a more direct approach – a letter outlining your reasons for considering the review to be defamatory should be sent directly to the author of the review, threatening legal action if the review is not immediately removed. If this fails, it is time to seek court intervention and a court order to compel the author of the review to remove it or face prison and/or a fine. If successful, it is highly likely that the author of the review would also be ordered to pay the legal costs associated with your claim.
In many cases, a bad review may not be terribly damaging and may well be negated by positive reviews. However, in extreme cases where the reviewer is unjustifiably defaming the reputation of your business, then it may well be advisable to take a more robust approach.
At HardingEvans, we have worked with clients in taking action against third parties for defamation. It is always worth an initial discussion to explore options – the damage that can be caused by a defamatory review is often irreversible but it can be limited with swift and forceful action against the reviewer.
By Ben Jenkins, Dispute Resolution Partner at HardingEvans and specialist in Defamation Claims
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