Online review websites such as TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon often decided for us where the best place to eat is or where best to wash our car. It has become routine for many of us to avoid that guesthouse with the rude manager based solely on Joe Citizen’s negative review posted on Hostelworld. In fact, we often don’t think twice about the consequences of posting a negative online review.
Flippant online reviewers should be alive to the fact that some negative comments posted online may potentially have very real legal repercussions. One option is for some small businesses to sue malicious punters for defamation.
To make out the defamation claim, the following will need to be established in Court:
1. The comment is ‘defamatory’ – that is, the comment must damage the business’s reputation in the eyes of the public;
2. The defamatory comment was published to at least one other person (not including the defamed business); and
3. The defamatory comment identifies the defamed business.
Under the Defamation Act (WA) 2005, small businesses (having fewer than 10 employees) are allowed to sue in defamation for material posted on online review websites. For a small business to be successful in mounting a defamation case, it will have to prove that the published material was not the honest opinion of the reviewer, or that the reviewer was acting maliciously. In other words, the reviewer’s intention must have been to damage the reputation of the business. Unfortunately, malicious reviewers often betray this very intention with extreme language and repeated targeting of a particular business.
It is also worth noting that while opinions cannot be defamatory, just because a person labels something as their ‘opinion’, does not make it so. Likewise while truth is a defence to defamation, it may still be a costly and time consuming exercise to prove this in Court. Consequently, it is important for keyboard warriors to be mindful of the comments they publish online about certain businesses.
HHG Legal Group has successfully pursued reviewers engaged in such conduct, and protected businesses who are the victims. Sometimes this has required careful forensic work tracking down the keyboard warrior who hides behind an alias or has multiple email addresses.
If you believe that you are the victim of online defamation, you need to act swiftly. Start by speaking to our experienced Commercial Litigation team so we can help you minimise and repair the damage done to your online reputation.
If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters please contact our office on Freecall
1800 609 945 or email us now
*This information serves as a general guide and does not constitute legal advice. It is based on our research and experience at the time of publication. Please consult our knowledgeable Legal Team for any specific inquiries or advice relevant to your circumstances, as the content may not have been updated subsequently.