Defamation and Online Reviews

In the age of Social Media is it much easier to have your opinion heard on, well.. pretty much anything. But can someone’s opinion be illegal if what they are claiming is, in fact, untrue? What recourse to small businesses have against deliberate defamation? Let’s investigate this problematic issue.

From the point of view of a small business in Australia, there is good news; Australian law allows businesses with 10 or fewer employees to take action against anyone who intentionally defames them through online review websites.

But what exactly can be deemed as “defamatory”? In short, defamatory comments are malicious or negative reviews which are published via online platforms, or review websites, written for ulterior purposes. Unfortunately for them, the poster can cost themselves thousands of dollars in penalty fees. Of course, this does not only go on the word of the business owner; there needs to be investigations conducted into the issue being reported, the person reporting it, and the impact is has had on the business. There can be serious repercussions for anyone who posts a review which is found to defame a business.

What you, as a business owner, must remember is that to be successful in an online defamation case, you would have to prove that the online review was intentionally malicious, and not written in honesty by the poster. To clarify, the business needs to prove that the poster’s intention was to hinder the good reputation of your business by trying to influence others to avoid conducting business with you.

Most online reviews do come from people who are stating their honest opinion. Negative reviews may by coming from someone who has taken issue with the service a business has given them. If the comments are substantially truthful, or is the honest opinion of the reviewer, then you may have difficulty in making a case for a defamation claim.

If you, as a small business, believe that you have been the victim of defamation, you should very quickly try to minimise the damage caused. The initial step would be to contact the website on which the review was published and request that the post be removed, also seek independent legal advice to see what your options are. Remember also, that laws may vary in different states.