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What Can A Wisconsin Business Do About Defamatory Reviews

In the social media era, Wisconsin business are more vulnerable than ever to false reviews and defamatory statements.  Defamatory online reviews should concern of all business owners. Murdock Law has worked with business owners to repair their online reputation.

What is Defamation in Wisconsin?

Defamation is a false statement communicated by speech, conduct, or writing to a person other than the person defamed.  For example, posting a review on Yelp may be defamatory but sending an email to the business owner is not defamation.  Only facts can be defamatory. A person’s opinion–no matter how embellished–is not defamation.

What Can a Business Owner Do About Bad Reviews?

Murdock Law recommends that business owners proactively approach negative reviews.  Regardless of whether the post rises to the level of defamation, business owners should address and respond to the issues raised in the review.

For example, Yelp and Google allow the owner to respond to a review.  Often the impact of a bad review can be mitigated by the owner reaching out to the customer and explaining how the issues have been dealt with internally. Occasionally, a dissatisfied customer will agree to take down a negative review if their concerns have been resolved.

A business owner can be aggressive and file suit for defamation (slander) if the customer’s statements fit the criteria.  A defamation claim can be used to recover damages caused by the customer’s slanderous conduct.  In the social media era, an owner must consider the risks that filing a suit could pose.  There are examples of aggressive business owners conduct that have gone “viral.”  Also, if the statements are made by an ordinary customer, there may be a risk of a judgment proof defendant.  In other words, a Wisconsin business owner may spend a lot of money to litigate the claims and win, but be unable to collect his or her judgment.

A defamation action may be used to get the defamatory statements removed, either by the parties’ agreement or by court order.

What Can I do If a Website Refuses to Take Down A Defamatory Post?

Some consumer review websites such as www.Ripoffreport.com will not take down any review no matter how false or inflammatory the review may be. These websites rely on a Federal law known as the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from any liability for the content posted on their website.  The law essentially states that a website owner is not liable for the content posted on their websites by third parties. As such, even if a Wisconsin business obtains a court order and judgment in its favor, the post may still exist online.

Although a Wisconsin business may not get the post removed from the website, the business may be able to make it “vanish” from search results.  The vast majority of internet traffic comes from Google searches.  Murdock Law has helped business owners repair their online reputation by getting defamatory posts removed from Google’s index.  In other words, the defamatory post would still exist on the website, but the search result would not be in Google’s results.

How to Get A Defamatory  Post Removed From Google Results

To remove the post from Google’s index, a business owner must get a court order determining that the post is defamatory or otherwise unlawful.  To do this, a business owner must file suit against the individual who made the statements.  It is crucial to include the defamatory statements, the reasons why it is false, and the web site URL in the complaint so a court can determine whether the statements are defamatory.   Also, if the defendant does not answer the business owner’s complaint, a default judgment can be entered against that individual, which can then be submitted to Google.

In Murdock Law’s experience, Google will remove the defamatory post within a day of receiving the submission of the Court order.  It should be noted that RipOff Report may attempt to revive the delisted post by slightly changing its URL after it receives notification that Google has delisted the post. In our experience, Google has seen past this tactic and will also delist the new Url when the issue is resubmitted to Google.

Conclusion

Defamatory online reviews have the potential to harm Wisconsin businesses.  Business owners should proactively adopt a strategy about how to address these types of defamatory reviews.  The right approach will depend on what is said and how damaging the post may be to the business. If your business is a victim of defamation, please contact us we are happy to help you review your options. Murdock Law has guided Wisconsin businesses through this analysis in the past and successfully obtained court orders requiring the removal of defamatory posts.

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