Can your online reviews get you sued?
Are you a blogger, a Yelper or Trip Advisor reviewer? Read the regulations for publishing online reviews.
On a Friday night, as a secret connoisseur you decide to check out that new restaurant serving food from farm-to-table. You log onto your Yelp and Tripadvisor app and check out what other people are saying about this place. People are raving about their dishes and vibes – so this must be worth trying!
You decide to make a reservation via Dimmi but only to find out that the next booking available is 3 months away. You normally wouldn’t bother, but your friends won’t stop raving about it, so it must be worth the wait.
The night arrives and you have high expectations for this meal ahead. It turns out that the wait-staff are rude and disinterested, the food is underwhelming and over-priced. You walk out of the restaurant, and feel the urge to let other people and your Instagram followers know and hope that other angry diners can relate to you about their experience at the same restaurant.
In the Digital Age, there is an increase of consumers sharing their opinions and criticisms on Social Media channels and review platforms. Consumers today have the power to determine a business’s reputation and performance. As an example, 80% of female consumers use online reviews to make a decision on their next purchase of a product or service.
That restaurant was “Dirty. Ants. Burnt Food. Extortionate prices.” (The Guardian)
I’m sure we have all shared this sentiment. Leaving a restaurant with a bad taste in your mouth, can often compel us to head online and leave an emotionally-charged review. But is it legal? Are some reviews allowed and others not?
Is it legal to leave a review online?
Taking heed of the impact of online review on businesses, the ACCC has written a guide setting out the 3 guiding principles:
- Be transparent about commercial relationships;
- Do not post or publish misleading reviews
- Omission or editing of reviews may be misleading
Can a company ask me take the review down?
As outlined above, it is legal to leave an online review, but before leaving a review on platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor, you will first need to agree to their terms and conditions. Most reviews get pre-approved as trusted and authentic reviews before it appears online, however review platforms also have the responsibility to take down any misleading and deceptive reviews.
You need to ensure, that when writing a negative online review that is not defamatory to the product or service. Put plainly, a defamatory remark is, any action you take that ‘defames’ the product or service.
If you review a product or service and reasonably believed it to be really bad, and receive a threat from the company of the product or service claiming your post to be defamatory, it may actually constitute as blackmailing if you have actually demonstrated genuine proof in your online review.
Here are a number of ways you can defend yourself against defamatory claims in NSW:
You can prove that your online review was substantially true by providing enough evidence such as authentic documents (for e.g. receipt, photograph, geo-location proof if necessary).
Online reviews can come across as an expression of opinion, meaning not a statement of fact. As long as the opinion is based on proper material (in other words ‘substantially true) and is related to a matter of public interest.
Experiencing threats by a company to take down your review? LawPath can arrange a fixed price quote to connect you with a lawyer who can advise you on your rights.
Let us know your thoughts on the writing online reviews by tagging us #lawpath or @lawpath.
Ann is a Paralegal, working in our content team, which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With a keen interest in media and IP law, her research focuses on the evolving role of the law to navigate new and emerging information platforms.