Online reviews can help a business grow or cause it to shrink. They are increasingly powerful, double edged tools. Some businesses work very hard to obtain positive reviews and that effort can hit heavy head winds because of an anonymous, vocal, unhappy customer or two. If a business is harmed by a false, negative review, what can it do?
Americans benefit from free speech but that freedom has limits, including defamation. Generally if a business’ reputation is harmed by a false statement and it can prove damages, it may have a legal action for defamation against the party making the false statement. Defamation in a written form is libel while slander is oral defamation.
The California Court of Appeal, First District, Division Four issued a ruling in July protecting a business’ ability to fight online, anonymous speech that may be libelous (ZL Technologies, Inc. v. Does, Glassdoor) though in the context of employee, not customer, reviews. The plaintiff found that it received very poor reviews on the job posting website Glassdoor. They complained about management, compensation and its work environment, making it that much harder for ZL to find job candidates.