Can Posting Online Reviews Land You in Legal Trouble?
  • Friday, 18 March 2022

Can Posting Online Reviews Land You in Legal Trouble?

The short answer is, yes, legal trouble is possible if you post online reviews. Online reviews and legal trouble are not two things you readily associate with each other. However, as people have the propensity to let loose on the Internet, it was just a matter of time before liability was attached to statements people make online. Let’s dig deeper to understand why, when, and how.

Online Reviews and Its Importance

An online review is the feedback of a past or current customer regarding a product or service they received. Online reviews can be positive, neutral, or negative, and business owners will naturally want all positive Google reviews. Consequently, most businesses will do what they can to make sure their customers are happy.

Given the risk of negative reviews, why do businesses put such a premium on online reviews? They make it a practice to encourage clients to post online reviews because it benefits them in several ways.

Brands with many reviews tend to rank higher in searches, helping their visibility. Online reviews can also help them generate more revenue. For example, positive reviews for a restaurant on Yelp can influence 90% of people looking online for somewhere to eat.

However, what online reviews “giveth can also be taketh away.” Negative reviews can seriously harm a brand’s reputation. Even a single negative review can significantly impact buying decisions, especially for older adults. Such influence can lead some people to post negative reviews even when it is not warranted.

Reviews and Legal Trouble: Can I Be Sued For Posting Online Reviews?

There is nothing inherently wrong with posting online reviews. It comes under the freedom of expression protected under Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, that freedom has “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” In other words, you can say whatever you want when posting reviews if you are not contravening any other law.

As such, a business can sue you for posting negative online reviews if it can prove that your review constitutes defamation, which is a criminal act under Section 298 of the Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) of Canada. It defines defamatory libel as any published false statement “that is likely to injure the reputation of any person.”

Ontario’s Libel and Slander Act (RSO 1990, c L.12) further addresses defamation as the publication of malicious content “issued for the information of the public.” It has provisions for bringing a civil action for defamation within three months of finding out about the alleged defamatory online review. A landmark case for this is Zoutman v. Graham, 2019 ONSC 2834.

On the other hand, Ontario’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) provisions under Section 137.1 of Courts of Justice Act (RSO 1990, c C.43, s 137.1) can be your friend. If you can prove that your online reviews “relates to a matter of public interest,” then your lawyer can request for a dismissal of the case by filing a motion under the Rules of Civil Procedure (RRO 1990, Reg 194).

However, the motion may not always succeed. If the business suing you can show that the case has merit and that the resulting harm, from your review, is such that it is in the public interest to allow the litigation to proceed, then you have no valid defence for your bad review. Those are admittedly high bars for the plaintiff, but some have succeeded in reaching them.

Components of Online Defamation

The general definition of defamation is the release of any false reviews or statements spoken (slander) or published (libel) that results, or is likely to result, in harm to someone’s reputation. A law firm may define online defamation as any content on a public platform likely to be seen by at least one person, not including the author of the statement and the person against whom the statement was made. Below are components of online defamation.

Publicly available

The content is accessible to people aside from the plaintiff and the defendant. Even if just one person sees the online review, it satisfies this component of defamation.

False

The statements are substantially untrue, dishonest, and malicious. If the comments are true, they may qualify as free speech and not constitute defamation.

Not an issue of public interest

The reviews serve no purpose to benefit the public, such as providing an honest opinion or fair comment about a business, product, or service. If the reviews provide useful or necessary information to protect other people from personal injury, i.e., dangerous products, then a defamation lawsuit might not have merit.

 

Negative Impact of Online Defamation

Loss of Job/Income

Many employers can legally do pre-employment screening by running social media background checks. Malicious and false statements or images (i.e.,deepfakes) on your online profiles can give a prospective employer the wrong idea about you and disqualify you for a position.

Humiliation

Most people tend to believe what they read or see online, and therefore, damaging statements can humiliate you and your family even if they are false or misleading. While you can defend yourself, the damage has already been done.

Mental Anguish

Online defamation often targets deeply personal or important aspects of your life. Defending yourself on a public platform often leads to significant mental and emotional stress.

Loss of Reputation

If you have a business, you know how long it takes to build trust with your clients. Online defamation can strike that down in one blow, and often you cannot quickly or fully recover from the loss of your brand’s reputation.

 

Everyone has freedom of speech, but there’s a thin line between truth and derogatory online remarks. Diamond Law is here to help! Call us now!

Pro Tip

Know your rights! Online defamation is something that you should not ignore. You can sue someone, or somebody can sue you for it.

– Diamond Law

Got Online Reviews and Defamation Issues? Call Diamond Law Today.

Online reviews are a privilege and a responsibility. As a consumer, you have the right to express your views on a product, service, or business, especially if it serves the public interest. However, you need to be honest, fair, and factual. That is the best way to avoid legal trouble.

If you still find yourself a subject of legal action because of your online reviews, call Diamond & Diamond for legal advice. We are experienced lawyers on both sides of personal injury lawsuits with offices in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.

Diamond and Diamond Lawyers can defend you in a defamatory libel lawsuit, perhaps even have it dismissed early with an anti-SLAPP motion. Get a free case evaluation today so we can set the wheels of justice in motion as soon as possible.

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