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Is there legal recourse for bad online reviews

It used to be that businesses, particularly small businesses, counted on strong word of mouth recommendations to get the word out about products and services. These days, however, reviews from online media platforms Yelp and Foursquare are where consumers go to get recommendations. This can translate into more business when the reviews are consistently positive, but many small businesses can struggle if one bad review keeps showing up. The frustrating part for many businesses is that the review may not even be accurate, or the owner took the criticism to heart and addressed the issue long ago.

Legal tips for dealing with social media challenges

There are many different approaches, but are a few thoughts about what can and cannot be done:

  1. Think about how much attention you want to put into monitoring these platforms. Some people find it best to not pay attention to Yelp, while others are fully engaged and may even buy advertising.
  2. Buying advertising will not mean that Yelp will delete the bad reviews. The California Supreme Court has ruled that Yelp is immune to defamation suits, so businesses cannot go that route either.
  3. Bad reviews may be fake or the work of a competitor. Businesses can flag a review and ask Yelp to evaluate the validity of the review, which can lead to it taken down.
  4. Responding online to a bad review is very tricky. In most cases, there is no out-trolling a troll. Businesses are better off ignoring it, make light of it, unmask the critic or try to build community support on your side.
  5. What if the bad review is from an ex-employee? There may be a non-disparagement clause in their employment contract, but even these may not be enforceable.

Fighting back in court

Legal action against false or negative reviews is possible if the perpetrator admits to the review or other slanderous action. This process should begin with a conversation with a business law attorney with litigation experience. The circumstances of each case are different, so they may have suggestions appropriate to the case that are not included in the above list.

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