Have you ever had a terrible experience at a restaurant and immediately turned to their Yelp page to let everyone know how you feel? The world should know if your food was cold, the waiter was cranky and you got food poisoning, right? You’re doing the whole online community a favor. Now no one else will have to endure the same experience. You’re a hero. You might also be a hero who’s about to be sued.
Online reviews can be a great way to know what you’re getting into before you buy a product or eat somewhere new. Reviews are some of the internet’s best crowd sourcing where we all help each other find the best places and products and save each other time and energy. Negative reviews are part of that. When they’re justified, that is. If you give a place you don’t like a nasty or unfounded review that costs them business or makes them look bad, they might not just sit there and take it. They might retaliate.
There have been countless lawsuits over the past several years where companies have sued individuals who posted negative reviews online for defamation or libel. These suits can cost individuals huge amounts of money in legal fees or compensation and go on for years. That’s why you need to be incredibly careful any time you review something online. An honest review can be helpful to other potential customers, but word it the wrong way and you could be on the hook for wrongfully lowering a business’s esteem. So how do you craft a negative review so you don’t get sued?
1. Wait 24 hours
A sure-fire way to not get sued is to not post at all. Wait a full day before you review something online. And no, writing up a rage-fueled post and then waiting to send it does not count as waiting 24 hours. Write your review once you’re in a calmer state and take the time to re-read it and edit. Also show it to other people so you can get a sense of how it comes across.
2. Deal with it personally
Before you write a public review, consider dealing with your problem with the business directly. Send an email or call the establishment to talk to someone about your experience. That way they might be able to fix the problem, rather than just lose business because you wrote about it. You also might be rewarded with some compensation for your troubles (which is infinitely better than a lawsuit).
3. Talk about the service, not the server
If you’ve decided the only way to get on with your life is to write a public review, be very careful about what you’re reviewing. Don’t attack anyone personally, even if you’re upset with how you were treated by a staff member. No one likes to be personally attacked and that’s sure to get people angry. Angry enough to sue you. You can say you weren’t pleased with the service, but you can’t name names.
4. Write a fact-based opinion
Your key defenses if you’re being sued are that what you wrote was truthful or ‘fair comment.’ That means that you need to be accurate with what you report (don’t embellish) and be clear that what you’re stating is your opinion. Make sure that any claims you make can be backed up with hard proof (i.e. pictures, email chains, receipts, etc.).
5. Own your words
Anonymity won’t help you here. If you write a defamatory review and the business chooses to sue you, there are ways for them to request the IP address of the commenter and find you even if you didn’t use your name. Make sure that everything you write is something you’re okay with being associated with your real identity.