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Amazon and Yelp are both currently suing companies that sell fake online reviews, a major reminder that online reputation can have a major impact on the success or failure of a business. Reading just three negative reviews can be enough to change the mind of most consumers, according to The Guardian, so sham online ratings may result in serious damages.
So, what should you do if your company is bombarded with false, negative reviews? Here are three tips:
1. Don't Freak Out
If your company gets a bad review, don't worry -- the sky isn't falling yet. This bit of advice is especially true for lawyers, whose responses to online criticism can leave them facing sanctions. That's what happened to a Chicago lawyer who responded to a negative Avvo review with comments that revealed confidential information about the reviewer. But even if you don't violate attorney-client privilege, overreacting will make you look bad. If you do respond, make it brief, factual, and focus on expressing your desire to improve the situation.
2. Don't Try to Tip the Scales
One fake review doesn't deserve another. If you think there's something fishy about a negative review, don't try to counter it with a positive one. Similarly, if you suspect a competitor is trying to sabotage your ranking, don't respond in kind. The same goes for quid pro quo positive reviews.
Fake reviews can be criminal. They've lead to investigations by states' attorneys general as well as lawsuits from review sites. In 2013, Yelp sued a San Diego attorney who posted false positive reviews on its review page, though only after the lawyer sued them first, over an advertising dispute.
3. Do Get It Taken Down
It's possible to take legal action over false reviews as well, especially if it can be traced back to a competitor. A fake review by a competitor may constitute false advertising under the Lanham Act, entitling you to treble damages.
You may be able to contact a site's administrator to have false reviews removed. You may also be able to subpoena information about the origin of a review. But, don't count on suing the messenger; under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, review websites such as Yelp and Avvo aren't liable for the statements made by their users.