Freedom of Speech & Online Reviews
Posted on Feb. 7, 2012 by Alica Danesh - Social Media Analyst
Where do we draw the line when freedom of speech is imposing on the rights of businesses to operate effectively? In the digital age, people turn to Internet search engines such as Google to search local businesses. Search results will often pull up the business' web page on organic listings, location on Google places, and the infamous reviews on websites like YELP. These online reviews can either bolster the image and reputation of a business or they can completely destroy and discredit them. There are no rules for online reviews and people often take advantage of this.
Many complaints circling around online review websites are that the reviews are often fake reviews. Sometimes they consist of negative comments written by competitor businesses in the industry or even disgruntled former employees. On the same token, some businesses hire people from within their company to post fake positive reviews to better their image. Taking all these factors into account, what benefit could a website like YELP have for the business world if its only compiling pages and pages of commentary which the average Internet user has no way of deciphering the real from the fake?
In extreme cases, these pestering negative online reviews rise to the level of lawsuits. Lawsuits have been filed by companies who find particular reviews written by users to be defamatory. These lawsuits are often referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or "SLAPPS."Lawsuits brought by companies have claimed that users' postings were deliberately intended to hurt their reputation and discourage others from using this business' product or services. In response to this and for the protection of citizen's free speech rights, some states have enacted Anti-SLAPP statutes.
Balancing the rights of people to share their opinions and views with the world and the right for businesses to profit without the hits of negative reviews, is complicated. To avoid ending up in a lawsuit, take three easy steps before you decide to post online. One, write the truth of your experience with the company's product and/or service. Two, write to actually help other customers who may be seeking to do business with the particular company. Finally, most importantly, don't let your anger pour into your writing!
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