We’ve all been there – an experience that could be easily remedied goes south quickly and when we feel that we’ve been short-changed our right to customer service, we go online. Sometimes a few brief statements are all that it takes, while others tend to go on a complete tirade with little thought to the damage it could do. It’s not just consumer sites like Yelp or Google where this occurs, as employer/employee relationships can be evaluated on Glassdoor or Upwork.
Despite the frustration associated with these negative reviews, it’s crucial to keep in mind that free speech only goes so far. Stories are often seen across the nation that detail lawsuits pertaining to negative online reviews, and some of them can get pretty ugly. Many might remember the situation in Dallas, Texas in 2017 where a newly married couple went on a bender of negatively reviewing their wedding photographer. They ended up having to pay over $1 million to the woman as they very badly damaged her business reputation.
So where’s the line between speaking our minds and warning others when it’s warranted and saying things that we can get sued for? It’s a big enough issue that some sites like Glassdoor give people specific information about what they can and can’t say. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can leave a negative review and still protect yourself.
Choosing Your Words
One of the most prevalent themes that comes up when talking about negative online reviews is the element of defamation. Yes, free speech is still a thing in America, but there are limits to how you can describe an individual. Glassdoor’s article talks about the difference between opinions and verifiable facts.
For example, calling an incompetent salesperson an idiot is considered an opinion, and in the eyes of the court, may not be enough of an issue to continue with legal action. However, if you made a statement in your online review that your primary care physician was seen drinking on the job, that’s considered to be a verifiable fact. Depending on the specific situation, simply labeling things in your review as a personal opinion may be enough to safeguard you against legal action – but not always.
Can I Just Stay Anonymous?
Some individuals have a burning desire to leave a scathing online review for someone and assume that creating a fake profile with a name other than their own will be enough to protect them. While this may seem like a sneaky answer, the legal system is far more skilled than many realize. As mentioned in the Glassdoor piece, if you post a review that triggers a lawsuit, and if it contains verifiable facts, there’s a high likelihood that the platform you used will be subpoenaed to release your information.
Even if you use a fake name and a made-up email address, there’s still a little thing called your IP address. When it comes to finding out your identity, it would be hard to remain completely anonymous for long. Truth be told, if your review is that nasty to warrant hiding who you are, it’s probably not something you should put online anyway.
Consumers and employees alike shouldn’t be afraid to leave constructive reviews online for fear that they’ll be on the receiving end of a lawsuit, but it is important to pay attention to the ways in which you word things. A good rule of thumb is to keep it professional, and even if an experience was truly horrible, imagine how you’d feel if the same things were written about you!
Having been bitten by the writing bug at the young age of 6, Courtney gets to live her dream every day by creating content for a wide range of clients. When she’s not typing away at the computer, she loves spending time with her two sons in the Pacific NW.