“I’m never going back. I saw two rats in the kitchen making babies and I saw one of the babies and it looked at me! Great breadsticks though, two stars.” – A review by Alf Riggum.
Gotten a bad review on Yelp or Google? A bad review, even if of dubious basis in fact, can hurt your business. Unfortunately, the law does not provide any cheap or or easy solutions to bad or even fake reviews. Read below to see what your options are and to understand why you shouldn’t trust anyone claiming they can easily remove negative reviews and comments.
What Are Your Options?
There are a few options in how you can deal with bad reviews. Most of them do not necessarily involve getting a court or lawyer involved, but if your goal is to remove the review no matter what that may ultimately be the only option.
Some platforms, including Yelp and Google My Business, have a moderation policy that allows you to request a review’s removal. While the moderation policy varies from platform to platform, typically they will only remove reviews that they believe violate their policies. You’ll need to review the platform’s individual policy, but usually you’ll be more successful going this route if you can claim that the review is fake (i.e., clearly disconnected from reality, posted by a competitor under false pretenses, etc.) rather than merely negative. If a review is genuine, most platforms won’t remove the review even if particular facts are in dispute. So, Alf Riggum’s review above would probably be removed as clearly disconnected from reality. On the other hand, a review that claims a product someone bought from you was defective would not clearly be disconnected from reality, even if it you personally know for a fact the product was not defective – the platform won’t take your word for it.
Most platforms allow business owners to respond to reviews, and a well-crafted response can be an excellent way to deal with a negative review by allowing readers to hear your side of the story while showing that you value customer feedback and opportunities to improve service. It is important to emphasize that the response needs to be well-crafted because a bad response from a business can be more damaging than the bad review.
The best way to respond to a review will depend on its particulars, but one thing you should never do is attack the reviewer by calling them a liar, threatening to sue them, insulting them, or do anything else of that nature. While it might feel good to do get it off your chest, is is unlikely to convince the reviewer to remove the negative review, and it may also give a bad impression to any other potential customers who read the response. No one wants to do business with a company that publicly attacks its customers or threatens them with litigation, even if the business is in the right.
Sometimes a bad review just isn’t worth dealing with. If you’ve got hundreds or thousands of positive reviews, will the occasional negative review really hurt you, particularly if it’s not THAT bad? Probably not, and it may even help make the positive reviews more credible by demonstrating that there are dissenting opinions and all of the good reviews aren’t just astroturfing (which refers to the practice of soliciting or self-publishing good reviews and only good reviews, often in ways that constitute deceptive business practices). Whether a particular review is worth losing sleep over depends on its content, but don’t think that literally any bad review will hurt your business. Additionally, many review platforms use algorithms to reduce visibility to reviews that don’t seem credible or that customers are unlikely to find helpful, so customers may not often see a single short review that just says something like “bad service.”
This is the most expensive option by a large margin, and it is only occasionally the right one. Lawsuits over bad reviews should be reserved for reviews that would seriously damage your business and that give rise to a legal claim – that is, if they are defamatory, anti-competitive, or otherwise actionable. Note that when we use words like “defamatory” in this context we are talking about a specific legal definition that goes beyond merely saying bad things about your business – a lawyer can give you a better idea over whether a review rises to an actionable level.
If the review is actionable, a successful lawsuit may lead to the review’s removal and, depending on the specifics, monetary damages from the reviewer. You may also be able to use the litigation as leverage to convince the reviewer to voluntarily remove the review. No matter the result, this will be an expensive process that is complicated by the need to accurately identify the person who posted the review, particularly if they did so anonymously. In certain circumstances, litigation can open your business up to counterclaims from the defendant.
Litigating a bad review can also draw unwanted attention to the review itself. If news that you’re suing a customer over a review gets picked up by the local media or on social media, the effects of the bad review can be amplified as many more people not only read the review but also associate your business with suing customers.
The bottom line is that litigation is the nuclear option, and you should only consider it if (a) there is no other approach to stop a bad review from seriously damaging your business and (b) you actually have a decent shot of winning the case, or at least negotiating a favorable settlement.
Why You Can’t Sue the Review Platform Itself
One dead end to dealing with a bad review is suing the review platform itself. You usually can’t successfully sue Yelp, Google, or any other platform for reviews posted by the platforms users. There’s a very broad defense under a law referred to as “Section 230” that effectively shields review platforms from lawsuits over user generated material – even if that material is defamatory or otherwise unlawful. If anyone tells you otherwise, get a second opinion.
Third-Party Removal Services
A lot of third-party services offer help removing reviews for a hefty fee, but they don’t bring much to the table. They don’t have any special method for removal except the ways listed above, and they can’t magically make Yelp take down reviews. Some – though certainly not all – companies that offer to help remove bad reviews actually commit fraud in an attempt to have the bad reviews removed. More than one service has been caught forging fraudulent defamation rulings and related court orders and presenting the fraudulent documents to the review platforms in order to have negative reviews removed. Needless to say, forging court documents is illegal and you can face severe consequences if you knowingly engage such a service.