The advent of the Internet has created a lot of tension between online reviewers and the subject of the reviews. The good news about the increased ability of any customer of any business to share a post about the customer experience is that it creates much more data for the consuming public. The bad news is that the easy availability to the world (they call it the “worldwide” web for a reason) allows competitors and pranksters to post fake reviews. And those fake reviews can seriously damage the reputation of a business.
One outgrowth of this phenomenon is the “reputation management” industry. Reputation management firms work with businesses to clean up their on line presence. One goal, for example, is to counter negative reviews with positive reviews. The theory is that by flooding the Internet with good news, the bad news will get pushed down the list on search result pages. Which is okay, so long as the positive are real. And they’re not.
Another tactic for reputation management firms is to file defamation suits with the goal of getting a court order requiring search engines and other sites to de-list the reviews. And again, that’s okay too. Unless . . . Here’s a post from the online review site called “Pissedconsumer.com.” According to the post, there is some suspicious activity happening in some California courts.
The typical defamation strategy goes like this – an affected plaintiff files a lawsuit against an anonymous reviewer. The plaintiff then serves a subpoena on the host site (e.g. “pissedconsumer” or “ripoffreport”) and discovers the identity of the poster. At that point, the plaintiff attempts to prove the post is false and defamatory. If that works, then the court may order it removed.
But all of that activity takes time. And that’s what makes the California cases so fishy. In 11 separate instances, the plaintiff managed to identify the anonymous poster, and get an affidavit admitting liability almost on the same day the suit is filed. And the judgments in these cases don’t just order the removal of the offending post, they order the entire subdomain referring to that particular business. That means that all of the reviews – not just the “guilty” one comes down. Which means that legitimate negative reviews go away too. And the online reputation of that business improves, when it hasn’t earned it. And that should lead to a lot of “pissed consumers.”