When Does a Negative Google Review Constitute Defamation in North Carolina?

In today’s digital age, online reviews hold significant weight and can greatly influence a business’s reputation. A negative review of an experience an individual has with your business is generally protected speech. While negative opinions and experiences can be expressed in a review, there are certain factors that must be present for a bad Google review to be considered defamatory. In legal terms defamation refers to a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual or business. It can be spoken (slander) or written (libel).

If you have received a bad review that you believe has crossed a line into defamation, it is critical to understand the elements of defamation, where and how you have been tangibly damaged, and whether pursuing a lawsuit is financially viable. Elements that must be present and understood include:

False Statement: For a review to be defamatory it must contain false information. If a review merely expresses a negative opinion based on the reviewer’s personal experience, the review generally will not qualify as defamation or for removal by Google. If a review includes false statements of fact that harms your business’s reputation leading to tangible damages, the review may cross the line into defamation territory.

Negligence or Actual Malice:

In some cases, proving negligence or actual malice on the part of the reviewer is necessary for a successful defamation claim. Negligence implies that the reviewer failed to exercise reasonable care in verifying the accuracy of their statements. Actual malice goes a step further, indicating that the reviewer knowingly made false statements or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

Publication:

An element that must be satisfied in a defamation claim requires the false statement to be communicated to a third party. Posting a review on Google or any other public platform satisfies this requirement.

Harm to Reputation:

A crucial element of defamation is that the false statement must harm the reputation of the business. Mere criticism or dissatisfaction, even if expressed strongly, generally will not rise to the level of defamation. The statement must be damaging to the business’s reputation, resulting in tangible harm such as financial losses.

Judgment Worthiness:

Critical to the decision to pursue redress of defamation through the courts, even when a defamatory review harms your business’s reputation sufficiently to result in tangible damages, is the reviewer’s ability to recompense your damages and attorney’s fees. Pursuing legal remedy is a costly endeavor. Understanding your compensable damages and your reviewer’s judgement worthiness is key to determining whether pursuing a lawsuit is financially viable.

Managing Negative Google Reviews

The first step in this process is to acknowledge that your Google Business Profile is an important asset. Learning to manage this asset has become a primary responsibility of businesses of all sizes. Once you understand that, develop a strategy for becoming a part of your business’s online review conversation. There are several steps you can take to accomplish simple goals that will benefit your business now and in the future.

  1. Google Support provides documentation to help you learn to manage your Google Business profile. Literally everything you need to know can be found with a common language search on the Google Search engine.
  2. Learn about managing Google Reviews.
  3. Respond to all of your reviews, positive and negative.
  4. When a negative review meets Google’s criteria for removal, flag it to Google for consideration.
  5. If Google denies your request to remove the review, you can appeal it and explain your reason the review should be removed in greater detail than Google allows at the first level.
  6. If your appeal fails, consider hiring a reputation management company that partners with Google. They can escalate your appeal to a live Googel agent and argue your position for you.
  7. Request reviews from customers that will leave positive statements that override your negative review. Review acquisition is an important element of business planning. Consider review acquisition products like Podium, Kenect, and Birdeye to make the process easier.
  8. It’s important to note that proving defamation requires a thorough understanding of the legal standards and an analysis of the specific circumstances. Each case is unique, and the outcome depends on various factors, including the content of the review, its impact on the business’s reputation, and the financial feasibility of pursuing legal action.

    If you find yourself dealing with a potentially defamatory Google review or have questions about defamation law in North Carolina, please start by familiarizing yourself with our consultation requirements (make article) and complete our intake evaluation form. Our staff will respond as quickly as possible.

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