Businesses can fight back against fake online reviews

Posted by Charles Middleton on 02/02/2018

Q: What are the risks for business operators associated with fake online reviews?

A: Online reviews are a popular way for consumers to share about their experience with an organization's product or service. Online reviews also are becoming a tool for defamation, especially when looking at fake reviews. Fake reviews typically come from a disgruntled former employee or customer or, even worse, a competitor trying to damage a business' reputation. While these reviews may be noticeably fake to the business owner, they may not seem fake to consumers. In fact, some studies indicate that nearly 70 percent of consumers trust online reviews. With so much consumer trust in reviews, fake online reviews have the power to significantly damage consumer confidence in and perception of a business.

Q: What are some steps to address or mitigate fake reviews that can be taken before considering legal action?

A: Before taking legal action, business operators should aim to manage fake reviews promptly and directly. Start by routinely monitoring company social media pages for reviews. Pay attention to indicators of a fake review, such as insider knowledge or mentioning a competitor. Then if you believe a review is fake, contact the site about having it removed. Some larger review sites are reluctant to take down reviews, so if you can't get it removed, respond directly to the review. Do so in a calm and non-argumentative way, pointing out why you believe the review is fake and emphasizing the positives of your business. If the fake review is by a competitor, consider contacting him directly, telling him you are aware of his actions and aren't going to ignore it. You also can use positive reviews to offset the fake negative review, diminishing its visibility and any negative harm to your business.

Q: If legal action becomes necessary, what issues should business owners consider?

A: You'll first want to consider whether the review is significantly damaging to your company's reputation, and if legal action will only bring more unwanted attention to the damaging review. It's also important to know the most likely claim for you to make is cyber defamation. Proving this is often tricky because it requires a statement of fact that harms your business, and most reviews are informal statements of opinion. Also worth noting is that you normally have to sue the individual reviewer, not the site itself, which can be hard to do because many reviews are anonymous. Sites could help discover the reviewer's identity, but are reluctant to do so, and courts are reluctant to override the First Amendment right to anonymous speech. Ultimately, the best defense to fake online reviews is a good offense. Stay aware of reviews and act quickly to counter fake ones.

PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER

Published The Oklahoman, February 2, 2018