Dealing with negative Google reviews through the court system

Recently I have had the displeasure of receiving negative reviews on Google.  You can read the review here:

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Dealing with negative feedback is never easy.  There are a couple of issues that make these reviews even more challenging.

“Important client”

I received a review from someone called “Important client.”  The review was vague and written poorly.  I doubt very much that this review was legitimate as it was written poorly, mentioned no details of the client’s experience, and overall seemed bogus.

“Tedd Broeren”

This review was also vague – the user had only recently created a Google address and had only one thing attached to their Google account – this review.

If these reviews were written by people who weren’t clients of the firm then they would constitute a libel against my company and I would be able to recover damages against them.  There are several hurdles that have to be overcome in order for this to happen.  I’m going to outline them for anyone else out there who is dealing with this issue.

1.  Anonymity

“Important client” is posting using a pseudonym and has an anonymous account.  In order to figure out who this user is Google will require a court order in order to disclose any of their personal information.  With a court order I should be able to get the internet address and email attached to the account.  Once I have that I have to get the Internet Service Provider to provide me with any information attached to that account – for example the billing name and address.  Realistically though, this all may lead me nowhere.  The email address could have been setup in a public library using a fake name and I would be no farther ahead; in fact I would be way behind because the time associated with that wild goose chase is worth about $15,000.

2.  Judgement proof

Let’s assume that I get the name and billing address and am actually able to locate “important client.”  Let’s also assume that they weren’t so important and in fact never were a client of the firm. Going down the yellow brick road let’s finally assume I am successful in obtaining a judgement against them for the libel.  Just because I have a court order doesn’t mean that I will get paid on it.  If there are no assets to enforce against I will be out of luck.  Further to that a person can declare bankruptcy (or perhaps they have already) and the debt owing under the court order will be abolished.  Once I person has been stripped of their wealth and access to credit there isn’t much else you can (should?) do to them.

3.  Fair comment

Let’s go back and find out that either/both of the reviews were posted by former clients of the firm. In that instance they are allowed “fair comment” – meaning that they are entitled to leave a negative review so long as it is true and fair comment on the firm’s services.  In that case I am out the time/money it took to find out who they actually are.

4.  Jackpot

My only good outcome (!?) on this is for both of the reviews to have been posted by either competitors or people hired by my competitors, some or all of whom have deep pockets.  In that case I have a strong case for libel and can proceed with the litigation.  Once libel is proven Damages are assumed and courts are typically fair and generous when it comes to libel.

Typically I wouldn’t advise a client to proceed with this kind of litigation.  It’s expensive.  It’s high risk.  You are likely throwing your money away.  My recommendation would be to spend the money that you would pay into this kind of litigation on marketing strategies that would “drown out” the negative reviews and help to offset their negative impact.  But, like many lawyers, I’m not going to follow my own advise.  I am going to chase this “important client” to the ends of the earth and make him/her pay…

Stay tuned and I’ll try to post regularly on my progress so that others can learn how the legal system will deal with anonymous negative reviews on Google.