Window to the Law: How to Handle Negative Reviews

NAR Associate Counsel Charlie Lee discusses options for how to handle a negative or fake consumer review.

Window to the Law: How to Handle Negative Reviews: Transcript

Online reviews are a natural extension of word-of-mouth marketing. Gone are the days of relying only on recommendations from friends; now you can go online and easily find other peoples’ opinions about anything including a doctor, accountant, or a real estate agent. Experts say that research shows that a large percentage of consumers check online reviews before choosing a product, service or a business.

And consumers often trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, which means online reviews are important for the success of your business. But, this can be frustrating when you find yourself the target of online reviews that are fake or completely inaccurate, and many consumers can’t readily tell when they’re reading the review. If a review is negative but true, at least you can learn something from it. But a fake negative review is not only frustrating but can potentially harm your business. So, what can you do?

Fake reviews can be challenging to deal with due to two federal laws.

  1. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to interactive computer service providers like Google, Yelp or Facebook for publishing content provided by others, such as reviews, which means that service providers cannot be liable for acts committed by others using the website or online forum, even if the provider fails to take action after receiving actual notice of the harmful or offensive content. Just last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that pursuant to the Communications Decency Act, Yelp couldn’t be ordered to take down defamatory reviews.

Second, the Consumer Review Fairness Act protects a consumer’s ability to share their honest opinion about a business’ product, service or conduct in any forum, including through social media, and prohibits a business from restricting an individual’s ability to review the business, and from imposing any penalty or fee against someone for doing so.

But all hope is not lost. Here are some general tips for dealing with negative reviews, and steps you can take to defend yourself against fake negative reviews on major online platforms like Facebook, Yelp and Google and several real estate websites.

First, whenever you become aware of a negative review, walk away and take a deep breath. Don’t try to retaliate. A tit for tat response could cause you to look unprofessional and may exacerbate the situation. Only proceed when you know you’re calm.

Second, attempt to get the fake review removed. Follow the site’s take-down procedure, which you can typically find in the site’s terms of service.

For example, Facebook may remove any user-submitted recommendations that don’t comply with Facebooks’ Community Standards guidelines or that don’t focus on the product or service offered by the business.

And, Yelp will remove a review if it violates their Content Guidelines, which includes reviews submitted by a reviewer with a clear conflict of interest, that isn’t based on a reviewer’s own personal experience, uses offensive language or contains confidential information.

Google’s policy is particularly broad, and may be the most helpful to businesses. Google’s policy states content should be based on genuine experience and should not be posted just to manipulate a place’s rating. Google’s policy also prohibits users from posting content about a current or former employment experience or posting content about a competitor to manipulate ratings.

To increase the likelihood that your complaint will be considered and resolved in your favor, be sure to state that the review is in breach of the site’s terms of service. This tends to get your complaint through any algorithm that sets the importance of any complaint review

Also, consider posting a thoughtful reply to the fake review. Be polite, point out any inaccuracies with the review, such as not being able to confirm that they were a client or invite them to contact you directly to resolve the matter. By responding in this manner, you’ll avoid having the fake review stand alone and you’ll also demonstrate your professionalism and that you take reviews seriously.

Lastly, consider legal action only as a last resort. Lawsuits on this topic, including those filed against companies like Facebook, Yelp or Google, have thus far proven to be unsuccessful. If you have proof that someone or a competing business is conspiring to ruin your business, consult an attorney to advise whether legal action in the matter is recommended.

Thank you for watching Window to the Law.

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