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Online Reviews – Fair Enough Or Fairly Best Avoided?

Online reviews – Fair enough or Fairly best avoided?

In these modern hyper-connected times, it seems like almost every product or service provider asks you to review your experience. Many of us also rely on genuine online reviews penned by other customers when choosing a product or a new restaurant to try. A positive review about a good experience is always gratefully received by the business, but there has been a recent slew of litigation over negative comments left by disgruntled clientele.

In some recent examples:

  • A Brisbane dog owner was sued by her local vet after the owner posted a number of less-than-complimentary reviews online. The owner alleged the vet had overcharged her by excessively marking up the cost of medication, the vet was grumpy and that they banned her animal from receiving treatment at the practice after the owner queried the bill. The court found the owner was unable to prove that each statement she made online was true, and ordered her to pay $25,000 in damages to the vet, plus the vet’s legal costs.
  • A Queensland go-karting enthusiast was ordered to pay $250,000 in damages plus legal costs after he made a series of posts on public Facebook pages about a man who was the CEO a Go-Karting association. The posts accused the CEO of being controlling, intimidating, a bully, incompetent and destroying the motorsport industry, amongst other things.

There are numerous examples in caselaw across the country where negative feedback posted online has been found to be defamatory of its subject, with substantial penalties imposed. Businesses know the value of a “good” Google rating, or trip advisor score, and some act swiftly to shut down unfair or overly exaggerated criticism. Accordingly, if you are moved to post an unflattering online review, it pays to keep the following principles in mind to minimise your risk of expensive litigation:

  1. Firstly and most importantly, stick closely to the facts. Avoid making grandiose or sweeping statements, or exaggerated comparisons. Before posting, consider whether you could actually prove that each statement you make is true, and keep a copy of any document you have that could be evidence. It is much easier to prove “I was overcharged $10 on the price advertised on their website, and they did not refund it after I asked them to” than “This business grossly and incompetently overcharges its customers and then does nothing at all when you complain, it is a disgrace”.
  2. Consider raising your feedback directly with the business first and providing them with an opportunity to address it, before making public statements to the world at large.
  3. Examine your motives for posting – if your intent is malicious or if the review is really for an ulterior purpose (i.e. to damage a competitor, or to exact revenge on someone who has wronged you), you are less likely to have a defence to a claim.

If your business has been impacted by a negative online review, there are some practical steps you can take to try and mitigate its impact. Contact Ben Sindel or Kathleen Anderson by telephoning our office on (07) 3220 2929 or emailing us at contact@plastiraslawyers.com for further advice.

About Kathleen Anderson

Kathleen Anderson is a Senior Associate in the Dispute Resolution team at Plastiras Lawyers. Kathleen helps individuals and SMEs regarding prevent, negotiate and resolve disputes. Her expertise includes advising on insolvency, bankruptcy and debt disputes.

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