An online review could land you in hot water with the law

More and more of us are turning to social media and review sites before visiting restaurants, booking holidays or buying tickets for entertainment. But could sharing thoughts and experiences online turn into an unexpected legal dispute?

Advice on defamation claims
20th March 2019

The recent case of a pub landlady in Wales ‘taking on’ a spate of bad online reviewers has highlighted the dangers of publicly sharing your opinions.

Hannah Parsons, Principal Associate Solicitor at DAS Law has put together some handy tips to help ensure your review doesn’t get you into hot water:

How do I avoid getting into trouble when leaving a negative review?

The most important thing to do when leaving an online review is to tell the truth. An online review is not libellous if the statements contained in the review are true.

You are entitled to give your honest opinion. A bad review is only defamatory if you make a false statement which is likely to cause financial loss to a business.

Nevertheless, whilst you have the right to freedom of expression, this is not an absolute right and does not give you the right to make defamatory statements. Avoid making such statements, but don’t be deterred from sharing your honest views and experiences.

What are the consequences of getting it wrong?

A business pursuing a claim for libel without a just cause could prove costly as they could face huge legal fees if they are unsuccessful.

However, if a business is successful in a defamation case against you, they would generally be able to recover compensation, legal costs and get a court order instructing you to remove your review from the website and publish an apology.

For a business, an unhappy review may not make for pleasant reading, but a bad review is not always a defamatory one. Court action should generally be the last resort as defamation claims could be very costly.

If you are a business considering legal action, you should seek specialist legal advice on defamation. Businesses can report the comment to the website, but if the comment is genuine the website is unlikely to take it down, even if it appears to be defamatory.

Many travel sites such as TripAdvisor allow businesses to provide a response to the review giving their side of the story.

Like many aspects of law, common sense and truth are the watchwords. Whilst you’re entitled to express your views and post your opinions, be aware of the potential impact this may have on the hotel or business you stayed at.

If your review is not truthful and has a negative financial impact, then your review could be considered libellous in a court of law.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.

Hannah Parsons

Legal Advice Manager, Solicitor

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