Word of mouth has always been a huge factor in a business’ success, but the growth of the internet and social media really took that to the next level.
Customers have the ability to reach thousands or even millions of people with reviews they post online, which is why a bad review can do a lot of damage.
Sometimes a disgruntled customer will go so far with their damaging statements that a business may decide to sue for defamation.
However, a business can’t just go around suing or threatening to sue any person who writes a bad review about the business. Generally speaking, in order for a business to bring a defamation claim, three specific elements must exist:
The statements made were false.
Truth is always a defense to defamation claims, so if what was said about the business is true, then the business won’t be successful with the defamation claim. Bottom line: Statements that are unflattering are not defamation if they are true.
The statements were made to third parties.
This element is referred to as publication, though the statements don’t need to be published formally in a newspaper or the like.
When it comes to online statements, posting defamatory statements on Facebook, a review website or anywhere else where a third party can view it can be considered publication.
The statements resulted in damages to the business.
Typically, the business has to show that it suffered in some way such as by losing customers or revenue. Defamatory statements alone may not be enough to pursue a lawsuit if the business was not harmed as a result.
State-specific statutes of limitations also apply to defamation claims, which you can read more able in this article.
Finally, keep in mind that in many cases it is possible to remove or hide defamatory statements made online before any real damage is done, which may be the best option.