It’s 2021 and, now more than ever, people use online review websites to research companies for all kinds of reasons. Whether it’s before they purchase a product or go for a job interview.
Whilst online reviews are a useful way of finding out other people’s honest opinions and experiences with a product, service or company, they can sometimes contain inaccurate and defamatory information which in return may have a seriously damaging impact on that business.
How to Protect Your Business from Defamatory Comments
We are often asked what a company can do if they become aware that a review website contains negative reviews about their company.
Firstly, it is important to be aware that, in theory, anyone can post a negative review if it is their honest opinion. However, a review may be deemed to be defamatory if the company can prove that:
- it is false and, as a result, has caused or is likely to cause serious and financial damage to the company; and
- it causes the company to have been lowered in the estimation of ‘right thinking members of society’.
It is often the case that reviews are posted anonymously. If this is the case, where does that leave the company?
What Is The Defamation Act 2013?
The Defamation Act 2013 (‘the Act’) allows a website operator to be liable for the defamation comments of its user. In order to avoid liability, they must follow certain procedures within that act.
The first thing that a company should do when a defamatory review has been posted on a review website is to send a ‘notice of complaint and take down’ letter to the review website.
The website then has 48 hours to acknowledge the letter and contact the person who posted the review.
Following this, the website operator must act carefully in accordance with the legislation which is summarised below:
- If the person who posted the review does not respond within 5 days, the website must remove the post;
- If the person who posted the review responds in compliance with the regulations and consents to the website operator disclosing their details to the company, then they must do so and the company is free to pursue the reviewer;
- If the person who posted the review responds but their response does not comply with the regulations, then the website operator must remove the post.
Review websites should therefore be aware of the regulations and act in compliance with them within the strict timescales set out.
Furthermore, people who post reviews on these websites should be aware that there are consequences if they post defamatory comments, such as hefty payouts. It has recently been reported that a customer was ordered to pay £25,000 in libel damages after posting a defamatory review of a firm on Trustpilot.
Under the Act, website operators are obliged to authenticate the identity of their users. They must therefore obtain contact information which is more than just an email address (postal address is usually required) and keep that information so they can pass this on for the purpose of court proceedings if necessary. If a website operator does not comply, they may find themselves liable for the comments themselves.
Companies should be aware that they have protection under The Defamation Act 2013, even if reviews are anonymous.