Legalese — Removing Bad Reviews

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Lots of people have called me over the past couple of years wanting me to do ‘something’ about what they believe to be an unfair and certainly unflattering Yelp or Google review.  While this isn’t a usually an issue that a lawyer would handle, it is an issue that touches on some laws.

The first thing you need to do is analyze the bad review and determine whether it is a fact-based review or an opinion-based review.  Opinions are subjective, and everyone is entitled to their own.  For example, I think asparagus is Satan’s vegetable.  It is one of the few things I refuse to eat.  My husband thinks asparagus is the best of all vegetables and should be served with every meal.  Neither one of us is right (except me) or wrong (him), we simply have different opinions about whether or not asparagus tastes good (it doesn’t). 

Facts, on the other hand, are objective.  They can be proven one way or another.  So if I were to write a review of a local restaurant that I didn’t like, I might say, “The food is awful.  They contaminate all the food with asparagus.  To make it worse, the bathroom is always out of order so the employees make use of the alley out back for that purpose.”

Let’s break that down.  “The food is awful” is an opinion.  I think the food is awful.  It is awful to my tastes, even if everyone else thinks it is delicious.  “They contaminate all the food with asparagus” is part opinion and part fact.  You can prove whether or not all the food has asparagus in it.  The word ‘contaminate’ is an opinion – if the food does have asparagus in it, you may be of the opinion that such an addition contaminates the food (like me) or you may think it is a boon.  The bathroom part is more or less all fact based.  If the restaurant’s bathroom was working the whole time, that’s a lie.  If the cooks and servers did not use the alley out back to relieve themselves, that’s a lie, too.  You can have testimony about that. 

The reason why this opinion/fact analysis is important is because it determines whether or not what the reviewer is saying is defamation.  Defamation doesn’t mean “you said bad stuff about us that hurt our business.”  Rather, it means “you said bad stuff about us that wasn’t even true and it hurt our business.”  You can’t defame someone with the truth.  And, since opinions are neither true or untrue, they aren’t defamation. 

Regardless, getting a bad review taken down is a tough chore.  Whatever review service has the review on it likely has a set of rules.  If the review violates these rules (usually if there is something factually off or if the review is crude or vulgar) then contact the review service and report the review.  Hopefully, they will take it down.

But you can’t really count on that.  So how do you combat it?  Well, hopefully you have helpful friends and family.  Some review services have a thumbs up or down option on individual reviews.  Make sure that as many people as you can convince give the bad review a thumbs down.  Have your friends and family give you good reviews and, if possible, have them thumbs up all the good reviews.  This will push the good reviews to the top and the bad review will either not be seen or will be the one crabapple in a barrel full of fresh Honeycrisp apples.    

The bottom line is that people are entitled to their opinions, even if they are offensive or rude or uncalled for.  “I didn’t like the review” isn’t generally a reason to get a review removed.  “It contains proveable lies” might very well be a good reason, especially if you have the evidence that disproves the lies. 

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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