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The consequences of leaving bad comments online

Messenger Having suffered some terrible product or service, there is something darkly satisfying about publishing a scathing online review. This may not be virtuous or kind, but it can be cathartic. The rise of the keyboard warriors Keyboard warriors like me have benefited from an explosion in the number of review websites and apps in recent years. These cover everything from foodto travelto medical professionals.

5 Ways to Deal with Negative Online Reviews

Platforms like Facebook and Google make it very easy to leave a scathing online review. Mobile technology enables customers to vent, or compliment, even while they are still in the store. Mobile technology and platforms like Facebook have made it easy to post online reviews. Shutterstock Review websites keep consumers informed while letting the market know what works and what does not. In extreme cases, consumer reviews can even move corporate giants to change their policies.

For those on the other side of the equation, online reviews can be terrifying. I know from experience — anonymous student evaluations are part and parcel of being a university lecturer.

Bad reviews can be disastrous for small businesses. Understandably, some reviewees will be motivated to silence negative reviewers.

In extreme cases, they may even go to court. Although we have an implied freedom of political communication in our constitutionwe do not have a US-style right to free speech. Defamation law places significant limitations on our freedom of speech.

Courts have the power to force a person to remove content from the internetor pay damages to the plaintiff for harm done to their reputation. Failure to comply could mean prosecution for contempt.

Professional reputation is highly valued by defamation law.

Damages can be significant if defamation causes an actual loss of business, or even a loss of opportunity. However, there are a couple of barriers that could make it harder to sue.

Secondly, a review must identify a person directly or indirectly in order for someone to be able to sue for defamation. These barriers are not insurmountable. Fairfax stood by the critic who made the harsh review, which remained online for years. There was no evidence of any medical negligence or wrongdoing, and the size of the damages award was partly attributable to the poor conduct of the defendants — they failed to participate in the proceedings.

For example, a defence is available if your review is substantially true ; or if you have expressed an honest opinion on a matter of public interest, and your opinion is based on proper material.

There a number of defences to a defamation claim.

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Shutterstock These defences might allow you to defend a trial, but they will not necessarily prevent you from being sued. They also come with practical challenges: Defending defamation is expensive, even if you win. What if your review was anonymous? Not all review platforms require you to disclose your identity. A recent example is Rate My Bossa website created by union United Voice, which allows workers to review their employers anonymously.

This is the standard model for a lot of defamation litigation; media organisations will often defend defamation on behalf of their writers.

You can be sued for a scathing review

A disgruntled reviewee may go one step further and go after the internet giants that link people to defamatory content. These intermediaries have much deeper pockets and the practical ability to prevent something from being accessed. Australian court holds Google is responsible for linking to defamatory websites As for you, the reviewer: It may be tricky, but a would-be plaintiff has options: The context is different, but the anxiety felt by those Matthew McConaughey fans demonstrates that online naughtiness is not as anonymous as we might think.

Play nice and none of this matters If you play the ball, not the man; if you focus on what you actually experience, rather than making grandiose claims; and if you focus on the truthful aspects of a product or service in a harsh but fair review, you are less likely to fall afoul of defamation law.