Leaving reviews online: Protecting yourself from legal action

Leaving reviews online: Protecting yourself from legal action

I recently wrote a post about how to write a negative online review for a company or service, without fear of getting sued. In extreme cases, a company may sue for online defamation. We’ve recently seen stories in the news about contractors, for example, suing clients for posting a negative review. Often, there are extenuating circumstances that we are not privy to, however the possibility is real and you need to know how to protect yourself if this happens to you.

Defamation Law

I’ve covered the mechanics — the dos and don’ts of writing the review itself here — but I’d like to focus on what to do if a company is threatening you with legal action. In Canada it is important to be aware of Defamation Law, which protects the reputations of individuals and companies against defamation. However, you are entitled to write a negative review if you have purchased a product or service or had a poor experience, as long as it is an honest expression of opinion and free of malice.

Writing reviews is a basic right and are protected by law. There are a number of defences that can protect people writing a negative review such as:

· Truth

· Fair comment — this includes statements of opinion

· Absolute privilege

· Qualified privilege

· Responsible communication on matters of public interest.

Reputable companies will make it right

If a company contacts you regarding a negative review you’ve written, you have a few options. In many circumstances, if the company is reputable, they will make an effort to fix whatever problem you have. You may then feel inclined to edit the review if they have satisfied your concerns. This is an ideal scenario for everyone.

In some cases, companies will offer you money to revise your review to make it more favourable. That is your right, if you choose to accept a monetary offering as compensation for your inconvenience. But, if you’ve had poor workmanship, incomplete work, or even worse — damage to your home or property, then removing or editing your review may be out of the question.

Dealing with online bullying

At HomeStars, we work diligently to prevent service professionals from harassing homeowners to write a positive review (especially if that has not been their experience), or change a negative review. If they do so, they receive a strong penalty to their Star Score (a percentage rating out of 100), which can really impact their online reputation. If they continue to engage in negative behaviour, their Star Score will suffer an even larger decrease, or the company will be flagged on HomeStars for suspicious activity.

There is a misconception that advertisers all have positive reviews. That is false, and by sorting companies on search results by lowest reviews, readers can see service professionals that have poor scores. Our moderation system is run independently to ensure impartial moderators and machine algorithms detect fraud. In fact, 15 per cent of all reviews we receive are never published for that reason.

A negative review is good for everyone

Negative reviews from homeowners are not meant to ruin companies. They are meant to help companies improve, and inform homeowners as they make hiring decisions. Like any online review site, the consumer makes up their own mind based on what they read. If you have been dissatisfied and written an honest (and not defamatory) review of a company and they threaten you with legal action, know that your rights are protected by law. If your review was published on HomeStars, reach out to us as a first step. Not only is it important for us to be aware of any bullying or legal action that may be taking place, but we may be able to provide additional support. Calling a lawyer to get a formal opinion will also give you further piece of mind, especially if you are served with a Statement of Claim.

So, if you are thinking of posting a negative review based on an honest experience, do it. We are here to help you do it safely.