My business has been defamed on social media: can I force them to remove it?
Testimonials can be a great way to market your business and drum up customer loyalty and trust. Online review functions such as Google Review provide a platform for those testimonials to be readily available to potential customers. However, the dark side of this boon is that anyone at all can defame your business or brand very publicly online.
It is not necessarily just the expression of dissatisfied, disgruntled or otherwise agitated past customers, such platforms are available to anyone and everyone, and can be very damaging.
Can my Business Sue for Defamation?
Only small businesses (measured as those with fewer than 10 employees) and not-for-profit organisations are able to sue for defamation. Meaning that any businesses that do not meet those requirements are excluded from bringing an action in defamation.
Recent changes to defamation law also mean that a complainant must be able to meet a threshold for serious harm having been suffered as a consequence of the defamatory material being published. This means that businesses will likely need to show an impact to uphold their claim and it could prevent the Google review matters from being brought to Court.
However, if your business is excluded from bringing a defamation claim, all is not necessarily lost.
Can I Sue Personally for Defamation?
The legislation still allows an individual associated with a corporation to sue for defamation. The key is that the person must be identified in the Google review, whether by name, title, description or photograph. A person may also be identified where he or she is synonymous with the business. For example, where John Smith is the owner of John Smith Electrics.
Another option for a company is to sue for “injurious falsehood”, which is harder to establish than defamation because it requires the plaintiff to establish malicious intent and that it caused actual damage to the business. These are often difficult thresholds to meet.
It is also a cost prohibitive process to issue defamation proceedings.
Nevertheless, some recent defamation cases over negative Google Reviews show that the Courts are willing to award damages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars where, for example, a Victorian woman was ordered to pay $170,000 in damages after she left multiple negative Google reviews about periodontist Dr Allison Dean.
Other cases have settled prior to final trial but have been issued over one star Google reviews left without any words published with that rating.
Google will not release information without a Court order, so in the case where defamatory material is published anonymously, businesses often have limited recourse other than to issue proceedings in order to get the reviews removed.
How to Reduce Bad Reviews
If you are getting bad Google reviews, one option is to remove the option to leave a Google review. However, this may also deter future customers from engaging you. Some other helpful options, are to:
- Only invite customers who have had a positive experience to leave a Google review;
- Respond to negative Google reviews honestly and invite them to contact you further. Remember to keep your cool! These responses can be seen by your potential customers;
- Privately send a letter of demand to a person that has left an unjustified Google review. This may prompt them to take the Google review down without any further action.