Consumer Reviews Under Attack in Orlando Lawsuit

Online rating sites can be a great tool for consumers to research the experiences that others have had with a business’ services or products; but for small business owners, customer review sites can have a major impact on their business, both positive and negative.  If you think that online reviews don’t make a difference, think again. 

According to the results of a recent Neilson survey on Global Trust in Advertising, online reviews and personal recommendations are the most trusted form of “advertising”.   Personal recommendations from someone you know (90%), consumer opinions online (70%), branded websites (58%) and emails that you have signed up for (50%).

On the other hand review sites also bring risks, for not only the business owner and the site for which they are listed (although the Communications Decency Act of 1996 should protect most sites), but also for the author of the comments.

In a recent law suit, an Orlando plastic surgeon is suing one of his former patients for defaming him online.  According to the suit, thedisgruntled patient posted not-so-flattering comments on the medical site RateMDs.com.

A lot of people assume posting online is protected under the first amendment right of freedom of speech—but that is not always the case.

Poster, beware: you can’t say just anything you want on social networking and review sites. 

Your opinion is fine, but post an out and out lie, even on a review site, and it could cross the line into libel and slander or in this case defamation of character. 

According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, “The defendant in this case has a vendetta, and my client has to use the court system to remedy that.”

The surgeon believes that the patient has posed as other patients and posted multiple comments on the site. He’s seeking $49,000 in damages and wants the posts removed.

The unnamed patient’s lawyer says if this lawsuit is successful, it’ll put a freeze on the usefulness of such rating sites like RateMDs.com, Yelp, Angie’s List and others that review services.

And so the centuries old debate over freedom of speech rages on and the Internet, Social networking sites and review sites only add fuel to the fire.

The best advice for those who would like to post a review about a business is to be honest, fair, and state that it is YOUR opinion or YOUR experience.  Be specific and factual and do not post under a fictitious name or multiple posts.  If you have a problem with a business’ services or products, writing about them on review sites is a great tool, however also consider reaching out to the business and providing them with an opportunity to correct the situation.

Regardless of the outcome of this suit, it will put reviewers, businesses and review sites on alert and certainly will result in changes.

Do you think the suit has merit?

 

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