Many businesses are rightfully concerned about the significant effect of negative reviews on their reputations, but efforts to keep consumers from voicing their concerns may violate the law.
Congress unanimously passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act to protect people’s ability to share in any forum their honest opinions about a business’ products, services, or conduct.
Some companies had been using contract provisions – including their online terms and conditions – to threaten to sue consumers or penalize them financially for posting negative reviews or complaints. The new law makes that illegal.
FTC staff just issued Consumer Review Fairness Act: What Businesses Need to Know with to-the-point guidance on what the law means for your company.
Consumer Review Fairness Act, The Federal Trade Commission, First Amendment
- serve to protect free speech and honest customer reviews
Businesses can remove reviews if they meet certain criteria
If faced with a negative review, the Customer Review Fairness Act allows businesses to remove reviews that contain confidential or private information – for example:
- a person’s financial, medical, or personnel file information or a company’s trade secrets;
- is libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, or is inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristic;
- is unrelated to the company’s products or services; or is clearly false or misleading or contain factually inaccurate information
Customer opinion v. factual information – Defamation
Some examples of content that would be covered under the First Amendment include:
- “That business charges an arm and a leg!”
- “I wasn’t happy with the level of service I received.”
On the other hand, any review that contains blatant factual inaccuracies that harm your business could be grounds for a defamation lawsuit. Some examples of content that might allow you to sue include:
- “This company does not have a license to provide their services.”
- “This company charged me for services that they never delivered—and have refused to return my money.”
Can You Sue Review Sites Directly?
You are able to sue a reviewer over a bad review (namely if it contained factual inaccuracies that harmed your business.)
But what about the site where the review is hosted? Can you sue the review site directly? No.
Under the U.S. Communications Decency Act, websites cannot be held liable for publishing any content written by a third party—and that includes review sites like Yelp, Google Reviews, Healthgrades and Angie’s List.
What Can You Do?
Is filing a defamation lawsuit a viable option?
The truth is, it takes a significant amount of time, money and energy to hire a lawyer and bring a suit to court in order to get a bad review removed from a review site. But, if the comment is extremely harmful to your business (and you can prove it to be false,) it may be worth that time, money and energy. If not, there are other, more practical ways to deal with a bad review.
Some strategies you can use to effectively deal with a negative review online include:
- Request the website to remove the online review. Just keep in mind that they’re under no obligation to remove the review.
- Post a thoughtful, gracious response.
- Generate more positive online reviews.
As always if you have questions about it as always, feel free to reach out to the Law Office of Jade Carpenter, and I would be happy to help! See you next time.
The materials available at or within this article and video are for information purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should ask an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue of problem.