Google business reviews: Potential defamation payout
Google business reviews are an important marketing tool for many companies and individuals who rely on the platform to provide valuable and truthful insights about their businesses to attract customers. The reviews can be highly persuasive when it comes to an individual making a judgment about a business and whether to engage with them.
There have been many instances where small businesses have observed a crash in their online ratings due to a rouge review which the business will often claim is not a genuine reflection of their experience. When a false review is posted, businesses will usually request that Google remove the review which often involves delay and may be ineffective.
When will a Google business review be considered defamatory?
There is an important caveat when it comes to making a claim in defamation. Where it can be proven that the review is true, then there are no grounds for claiming it is defamatory as it is a true reflection of a customer experience and will therefore not be removed to ensure the platform’s integrity.
In general, for a Google business review to be defamatory it must be:
- a false (dishonest) review of the customer’s experience, causing reputational harm; and
- be made about an individual, a non-for-profit corporation or a corporation with less than 10 employees.
Taking action against Google
The media recently reported an important test case as to whether a negative Google business review may be defamatory. Gold Coast law firm, Nyst Legal, commenced proceedings in August 2020 bringing a claim against Google for $150,000 in general damages and $150,000 in aggravated damages arising from Google’s failure to remove a negative review which Nyst allege is false. This was after Nyst sent multiple letters to the publisher who posted the review requesting for the review to be taken down, followed by formal removal requests lodged with Google.
Nyst brought the claim on the grounds that the review caused embarrassment, humiliation and distress to the firm.
As part of the proceedings it has been alleged that an individual poster had never done business with or retained the services of the firm. The Nyst action therefore brings to light one of the difficulties Google faces in policing its review system in that it remains possible for individuals who have not engaged the services of the business under review to leave negative comments which cause damage to reputations.
The outcome of the Nyst proceeding will in all likelihood set a precedent and be closely scrutinised by lawyers and businesses alike.
Implications if you are dealing with Google business reviews
Harmful Google reviews are a common situation many businesses are faced with across all sectors. “The customer is always right” is no longer the fall back when it comes to the reputational damage at stake for businesses, many of which rely on google reviews to convey a true reflection of their customers’ experience.