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We recently covered the rise of sites like Yelp reviewing businesses. We specifically looked at how to avoid being defamed by customers. The post offered pieces of advice for business owners concerned about defamatory reviews. One piece of advice: if a customer complains, you should confirm, confess and correct; and go the extra mile for a trying customer, but not the extra hundred miles.
But what to do about customers who leave comments that clearly cross the line into untrue, spiteful and legally actionable claims? The New York Times recently examined such issues involving hotel reviews on TripAdvisor.com.
TripAdvisor reviews that are potentially defamatory have become an issue for the site, which in the past did not allow property owners to post responses to guest reviews. Some hotel owners have demanded that the site do more to monitor guest comments and take action when reviews could be considered defamatory.
Cue Chris Emmins, a founder of British reputation management company KwikChex: "The world of the Internet and particularly social media has pretty much outstripped ethical guidelines, and some legal ones as well ... I don't think they belong on a review site ... They're allegations of criminality." Emmins is organizing a lawsuit against TripAdvisor on behalf of KwikChex's clients.
As The Times points out, the Communications Decency Act is thought to protect sites like TripAdvisor from lawsuits based on posts made by third parties. However, some contend that TripAdvisor takes an extra step that exposes it to greater potential liability: the site sends out e-mails that highlight "hotel horror stories," which raises a question as to whether the CDA still protects them.
Adam Medros, a vice president at TripAdvisor, said that hotel owners have the option to post a response to any review, and that TripAdvisor encourages them to do so. "I've certainly heard from more than one user that they're willing to pass over a bad review when the owner addresses it," Medros said.
So how can you avoid potentially defaming a business when you write TripAdvisor reviews? Stick to the facts and avoid offering outrageous or offensive remarks, even if your experience was terrible. It's said that truth is an absolute defense to defamation. Possibly, but defending a lawsuit is no picnic, and most people would prefer to avoid getting sued in the first place.
Besides, if your goal is to get a resolution, it's probably best to deal with the property directly and use the threat of a bad review as a bargaining tool.