How to post an online review (and not get sued)
Have evidence handy to back up your opinions, including emails or photographs, and speak your piece in a single post instead of multiples.
Fri, Dec 07 2012 at 10:59 AM
A contractor who sued a customer for a scathing review she posted on the website Yelp has prevailed in his court case.
Contractor Christopher Dietz won an injunction from a Virginia court on Dec. 6 preventing Jane Perez from writing similar online reviews and is now suing her for $750,000 for defamation.
Perez's reviews accused Dietz of incomplete and shoddy work and implied he had stolen her jewelry. Perez must delete her online statements that mention the missing jewelry, and she may not post anything about Dietz in the future. A date for the defamation hearing has not yet been set.
Do you risk getting sued after posting an unfavorable review online? You do, but there are other factors that affect your likelihood of prompting a legal battle. Here are several issues to consider.
What you say
If you simply don't like something, such as a meal at a restaurant , that's fine to post. Opinions are almost always protected as free speech. If you have an unsatisfactory experience with a service provider, maybe she was late or canceled at the last minute, that's also fair game, as long as it's true. Before you start typing, make sure you can prove your allegations, which could mean no more than saving the email or text that confirmed your appointment.
In his response to the Yelp review, contractor Christopher Dietz said that Perez's claims of incomplete and shoddy work weren't true — further, she never paid her bill, asked for additional work for free and then locked him out of the premises, according to the filing. Email, billing records, bank statements and photos would help show who's telling the truth. So next time there's a fly in your soup, snap a photo to go along with your post.
But if you accuse someone of a crime, you should consider filing a complaint with the police before you post it online. Better yet, it's probably in your best interest to avoid talking about your legal issues online.
How often you say it
While one post probably won't get you into hot water, a series of rants increases the likelihood of getting sued. In the Virginia case, the temporary injunction was filed because the reviewer had posted remarks over an "extended period of time" and "showed no signs of abating."
Limit your complaints about a particular experience — that means one review that could be shared on your social networks, but not multiple posts over time.
Other things to avoid
Don't post photos or other copyrighted material that you don't have permission to use.
If you have a blog or other website, frequently check the comments. You can be liable for what others say. Just ask Nik Richie, founder of TheDirty.com, who is being sued by a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader for an unspecified amount after Richie failed to remove photos and posts about her alleged sexual activities. In 2009, Richie was forced to pay $1.5 million to a Texas woman under similar circumstances.
Remove comments and photos that could damage reputation and those that contain copyrighted material. As long as you take these things down in a reasonably short amount of time (that's a day or so), you should be safe.
Don't post photos of people without their permission. If they're children, ask the parents before you post. And as funny as you may think some photos of your friends are, such as those taken at a wild party, don't post it. Aside from losing a friend, you could also wind up in court.
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