Key to the reputation of any business is how their service is viewed by consumers. Whilst previously conceptions could be cultivated through word of mouth or direct advertising, the rise of review sites has fundamentally altered the landscape.
Now, potential consumers are able to peruse hundreds of testimonials of former customers with just a few clicks. These reviews are also often given pride of place by search engines, with the highest rated reviews often appearing at the very top of the page when searching for a specific company.
While these review sites have generally aided consumers by creating transparency and direct accountability, they are also open to abuse. With the operators of these sites unable or unwilling to vet each and every review submitted, it is possible for those acting in bad faith to submit false, and potentially libellous, reviews of companies with very little oversight.
These malicious reviews can have significant consequences. Just as consumers are attracted and reassured by companies with a wealth of positive reviews, any signs of negative feedback can act as a significant deterrent. In this way, false reviews can directly contribute to businesses losing custom as well as their standing in the marketplace – as the old adage goes, it can take years to build a reputation but only seconds to destroy one.
Fortunately, awareness around malicious reviews is growing. Ealier this month, in the case of Summerfield Browne Ltd v Waymouth, a disgruntled former client was ordered to pay £25,000 in damages to a law firm he had posted defamatory claims about.
After instructing the firm on a £200 fixed fee over a dispute involving the enforcement of a court order, the disgruntled former-client posted on Trustpilot that his experience with the firm had been “A total waste of money another scam solicitor” [sic].
During the case, the law firm evidenced the financial harm caused by this damaging claim: in the five weeks following the posting of the review, the number of weekly enquiries fell by almost 50 per cent.
After reviewing the facts of the case, including the individual’s lack of engagement with the firm’s complaints process, Master David Cook, the presiding judge, ordered the individual to pay damages and for the review to be removed from Trustpilot.
While it is of course positive to see the courts robustly dealing with those who leave defamatory comments, there will inevitably be a delay between the review going live and the court being able to assess the case, a period of time where the business involved can be significantly damaged.
So what can be done in the short term?
Rory Lynch, a Senior Associate in Vardags’ Reputation & Privacy department, explains:
How to remove defamatory comments: a step by step guide
Vardags’ Reputation & Privacy team possess significant experience in removing defamatory comments, either by liaising with review platforms or pursuing claims in court. If you have been affected by any of the issues covered in this article, please call our confidential enquiry line on 020 7458 4321 or email us. We offer a free consultation to qualifying individuals.