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How to Protect Yourself from Negative Reviews as a Business Owner

Most online reviews, including nasty ones, are protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, a business owner can sue a commentator for defamation if they post factually incorrect information. A false factual statement that hurts your business is not protected by the free speech clause of the Constitution. Absent such falsity, written misbehavior recorded online is part and parcel of business today. Even if the business does not have an online presence, review sites like Yelp or Google, may force a business to address negative comments online.

One way to protect your business from online abuse is to develop a policy to address all comments, whether positive or negative. Though the impulse is strong, try not to delete negative comments or match fire with fire. Instead, respond to each comment publicly by posting a professional response to the comment. Don’t delay. The expression, “XXX blew up on Twitter” is real. You set the tone. You may take the discussion of the issues offline if the posting individual cares to respond again.  However, becoming defensive and rude can backfire with additional negative exposure. Once the issue is successfully resolved, suggest the commentator revise his or her original comment to reflect the issue was resolved.

Negative comments are not just limited to a business’ website. YouTube video comments, blog comments, forums, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media websites are some of the places where a business can be exposed to verbal abuse. A policy to address all complaints, whether in person or online, is a good way for consistency in messaging.

An English Example

In early March, Kensington Palace, the public relations arm of Princess Diana’s children William and Harry, published guidelines for interacting with The Royal Family on social media. The guidelines were prompted by an onslaught of negative postings that rose to the level of written abuse. The announcement was:

“Today we have published guidelines for interacting with The@RoyalFamily, @ClarenceHouse and Kensington Palace social media channels.” KensingtonPalace (@KensingtonRoyal) March 4, 2019

Read the full guidelines here: Two provisions of the guidelines are of note and can assist business owners as they develop policies for dealing with online abuse.

First, there is a clear statement as to what kinds of comments are unacceptable: “Comments must not be defamatory of any person, deceive others, be obscene, offensive, threatening, abusive, hateful, inflammatory or promote sexually explicit material or violence.”

Second, there is a clear statement as to the consequences of violating the guidelines. They include deleting the comment, blocking the account, and referring to law enforcement for investigations any criminal behavior.

The Reality – Every Business May Receive Negative Reviews

Social media and review sites provide platforms for largely unregulated speech. As their response is largely laissez-faire, we also recommend that your business continue to see positive reviews from clients.  By creating more positive reviews, readers will most likely ignore the negatives as part of this social media phenomenon.  The positive reviews can push down negatives, or at least outnumber them. 

We do not recommend creating fake positive reviews.  This is a growing trend, which is essentially spam.  Review sites are aggressive in pulling down what they perceive to be fake reviews, which can cause further embarrassment.

Facing Defamation Online? JGPC Can Help.  

If your business has been injured, in profits or reputation, because of the publication of false factual statements online, you may be able to sue the commentator for defamation. JGPC law helps businesses defend their reputation by pushing back against online trolls. We serve clients in Fremont, Hayward Oakland, Tracy, Manteca, and San Ramon from our Pleasanton and Livermore California offices. Visit us online to request an appointment today or call us at (925) 463-9600.

internet reviews, negative reviews, online reviews, social media policies

JGPC Business Law is a business law firm providing cost-effective, quality legal services to privately held businesses, corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), general partnerships, joint ventures, limited liability partnerships (LLPs), limited partnerships (LP), trusts, business start ups, entrepreneurs, business owners, managers, executives, investors, buyers & sellers throughout the Tri-Valley and the East Bay Area, including Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore, San Ramon, Danville, Walnut Creek, Castro Valley, Fremont, Tracy, Modesto, Manteca, Stockton and all of Alameda County and Contra Costa County. We are here to serve all of your business and corporate law needs.