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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The legal side of online reviews

Access to countless online reviews and ratings is one of the benefits of living in the digital age.

Whether it be a product sold by a specific brand or a service offered by a company, anything that can be purchased or experienced by the public is open to review online.
These reviews are pivotal in business and trade and help boost company reputations.

Inversely, they also protect consumers against goods and services that may be subpar to what is promised by those providing them.

Below, we’ll delve into the legalities of leaving reviews online. From sharing your experience to finding yourself on the wrong side of a legal battle, we’ll also outline the necessity for transparent and honest reviews and what laws you may find yourself on the bad side of if you’re discovered posting falsities.

Importance of online reviews

As mentioned, online reviews are crucial to how people look for new goods or services. A survey conducted in 2021 revealed that almost nine out of ten UK citizens search for online reviews before making a purchase.

Similarly, online reviews have become a massive segment of what users worldwide regularly access online.

For businesses, a product or service’s success or failure could be intrinsically tied to what consumers say online. Positive reviews and experiences can lead to growth in sales and customers.

Negative comments and mentions can quickly cause a lapse in sales and make a business lose out on potential income.

To avoid loss of business, consumers are encouraged only to consider reviews and ratings from reputable sources. For example, considering reviews on a cooking website would not be ideal when looking for reviews and ratings of UK slot sites.

However, a trusted casino review site operated by people with in-depth industry knowledge can help consumers make informed decisions.

Despite this encouragement to vet the source of reviews, many consumers may base their opinions on the first reviews they encounter online. These could be posted by those with ill will against a company, a competitor trying to drive sales to their product or service, or even AI bots.

To protect companies against false or misleading reviews and ratings, the government has
established the Protocol for Media and Communications (PMC). This protocol forms the basis of the law regarding deformation, falls under the Civil Procedure Rules, and is applicable to all UK citizens.

Acceptable online reviews

While the PMC protects companies from negative reviews, it only does so when they are not factual.

The law does not discourage or penalise citizens for sharing their negative experiences with others, provided their review or rating adheres to specific guidelines.

The guidelines for an acceptable review are simply that the statements within it are truthful and that the review is represented as the honest opinion of the reviewer without any outside influence. If these requirements are met, there is no reason why anyone cannot leave an online review or rating.

These help other consumers interested in purchasing a product or service be forewarned of any shortfalls they may encounter. They also help businesses understand where they may need to improve their quality or service, leading to increasing value in their offerings that will attract new customers and encourage repeat patrons.

Unacceptable online reviews

Just as there are conditions for an online review to be considered fair and acceptable, the same is true for false or misleading reviews. To be considered in the latter light, a review must contain false information or be written with the sole purpose of damaging a company’s reputation.

Reviews such as this not only affect the company being reviewed unfairly but can also put the reviewers themselves in trouble with the law. This is because when a review is considered unacceptable, it becomes libel. Simply put, this means that the review is defamatory.

To be counted as libel, a review must appear in written form (either on a blog, comment section, or social platform), must contain false information or a dishonest opinion, be likely to cause reputational or financial harm to a company, and cause a company’s reputation to be tarnished in the eyes of the public.

Libel reviews

When a review is considered libel, the Protocol for Media and Communications takes effect and allows businesses affected to pursue various avenues. These start with mediation and escalate to where the High Court can be involved. The different stages of the procedure are outlined below.

Removal and contact

The first avenue a business must pursue is removing the defamatory review. If the review is posted on their own website, the company can easily do it. However, if the review is posted on an external platform or social media, the business will need to move to the next step—contacting the reviewer.

In this step, the business can contact the reviewer (in writing) and request that the offending post be removed. If the reviewer cannot remove it themselves, they are expected to assist the business in requesting that the platform it is posted on remove it.

If the reviewer does not respond to a removal request or refuses to do so, the business can move to the next step.

Letter of claim

Should no assistance be received from a reviewer to retract their post, a business may issue a formal letter of claim. This should invite their cooperation in removing the comment or review and commonly include a reference to how the business is being affected (e.g., loss of sales). Should this letter not receive a response, the company may continue to the next stage.

Court proceedings

After an unsuccessful letter of claim, a company may approach the High Court and proceed with a court case against the reviewer. This will require a representative from the business and the reviewer to appear in court.

Under these circumstances, the reviewer will need to prove without a burden of doubt that the information contained in the review is factual and presented honestly. If they can do this, the company will be liable to pay court fees, and their claim will be dismissed.

However, should the reviewer not be able to prove the facts of their post, they will likely be found guilty of defamation against the company. This could result in them having to pay not only the legal fees of the company but also compensation for the loss of income suffered by the business.

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