Two recent court rulings have highlighted the increasing number of people being held to account for writing defamatory online reviews. One case involves an anonymous user, the other a reviewer who was proven to never have been a client of the business in question.
While some are happy that Google may finally have to face up to its reluctance to interfere with online reviews, there is also the issue of users needing to take greater responsibility for what they post online that needs to be addressed.
Google Ordered To Name Anonymous Reviewer
Last week, Melbourne dentist Dr Matthew Kabbabe, was given permission by the federal court to serve Google so he could find out the personal details of an anonymous user. The user, known only as CBsm23, left a slanderous review of the dentist and despite attempts from Mr Kabbabe to have the review removed, it remains in place. Mr Kabbabe plans to sue the user for defamation.
The week before, Adelaide lawyer Gordon Cheng, claimed he had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business and suffered from depression because of a fake Google review. The case involved a woman who left a negative review of Mr Cheng’s business even though she had never been a client. Google did remove the review, but the defendant posted it another two times using different names. Mr Cheng was awarded a $750,000 defamation payout by the South Australian Supreme Court.
What Happens Now?
Fake reviews, whether complimentary or scathing, aren’t anything new. Nor are people hiding behind their screens thinking they can post whatever they want under the guise of being anonymous.
The federal court decision permitting Melbourne dentist Mr Kabbabe to seek more information from Google is groundbreaking because of the scope of what might be handed over. With Google being asked to reveal
“the account’s subscriber information, name of users, the IP addresses that logged into the account, phone numbers, other metadata and other Google accounts that might have used the same IP address at a similar time as the review was left.”
there really is nowhere left to hide for anonymous users.
There is even talk of a class action lawsuit from hundreds of Australian business owners who have been complaining for years about the difficulty of removing fake Google reviews.
Reviews need to be worked into every digital marketing strategy and are an important part of social proof. All businesses will receive a negative review at some stage; it’s how you respond to it that matters. Often a business with no negative reviews is treated with more suspicion than one with all 5-star reviews!
Whether these two recent court ruling will have a flow-on effect to other online review giants and force them to change their policies on anonymous posts remains to be seen.
We believe all reviews, good or bad, should be verified and posted in the full expectation that the reviewer’s identity is available to the reviewee.