Online platforms can play a major role in how businesses are viewed by the general public. Reviews and statements posted on these online platforms can have an important role in shaping the views and opinions of both current and prospective customers.

Businesses can take a huge hit if poor reviews or defamatory statements are being posted online regarding its services or products. Because of the anonymity of social media and review sites, it is quite difficult for business operators to gauge the authenticity of a review, and can be even more difficult to have the review removed if it is not truthful.

Currently, most online platforms do not have systems in place to verify the validity of reviews, or the identity of the individual posting such statements. Despite this, there are an increasing number of rulings in the Courts punishing individuals for posting defamatory reviews, and for platforms like Google to identify such people.

There are now a number of instances where a person posting defamatory statements online have been sued by the victim. The Federal Court recently issued an order which compelled Google to identify the user who posted defamatory reviews against a practicing dentist in Melbourne.

The Federal Court ordered that Google must produce documents to assist with identifying the user defaming the dentist. This includes names, contact details, location data and any IP addresses that are stored on the reviewers account.

In another recent case, a defamation suit was lodged against a user who posted three negative reviews online using pseudonyms against Gordon Cheng, an Adelaide-based lawyer, despite never having retained him on any legal matters.   The reviews were posted both in English and Chinese languages, gaining an estimated 800 views per month while the review was live.

Mr Cheng claimed that he lost around 80 percent of his clients as well as suffered significant damage to his reputation because of the negative reviews. The Adelaide Supreme Court found that the false reviews caused significant distress to Mr Cheng’s business. After reviewing the findings, the Court awarded Mr Cheng $550,000 for lost income and goodwill, $100,000 for general damages arising from the distress caused and $100,000 for aggravated damages, along with the defendant having to pay Cheng’s legal costs.

These are just two examples of the seemingly changing tide against false negative reviews being posted online, with increasing pressure for companies like Google and Facebook to institute policies monitoring the identity and validity of user posted reviews.

If you believe your business has been unfairly targeted by false online reviews, contact WMD Law on (02) 9525 8688 for assistance.