Posted by Sheridan Hendzel, Associate
Negative reviews online can cause serious damage to your reputation as a business – but how do you stop it spreading like wildfire?
With our world becoming evermore immersed in a digital platform, businesses are forced to adopt an online presence in order to compete. With the increase in choice for consumers, companies must do more to market themselves to ensure their service offering stands out from the crowd. However, in some circumstances, businesses can promise too much, leading to consumers feeling misled.
With it now being easier than ever for consumers to share their opinion with the world, negative online reviews can have a devastating impact on a business. But what can be done when the review itself is misleading?
Burki v. Seventy Thirty Ltd
In 2014, Ms Burki paid a £12,600 membership fee to Seventy Thirty Limited in return for introductions to successful and eligible men.
Burki was encouraged to sign up to the dating agency following its claim that their database held had a substantial number of male members actively engaged in its services who were a sufficient match for Burki’s criteria.
Burki was looking for a “sophisticated gentleman” with an interest in world travel and someone who shared her desire to have children.
However, after paying her membership fee, Burki found that the men she was shown prior to signing up were not available. The men she was introduced to by the agency also did not match her criteria. Burki alleged that many of the men were not paying members, did not have the level of income expected from members of an elite dating agency and were not interested in commitment.
Burki expressed her disappointment with the agency’s services by uploading negative reviews on Google and Yelp. These reviews contained remarks that the business was a dishonest and fraudulent operation.
The claim for misrepresentation
Burki claimed the return of her membership fee plus damages for distress, upset, disappointment and frustration.
Whilst the High Court observed that Burki’s requirements were not modest, she was awarded the return of her membership fee plus £500 in damages as compensation for distress.
Burki was induced to enter into a contract with the agency by the false representations given by the agency.
The Court ruled that the agency’s claim of having a substantial number of men on their database who would fulfil Burki’s requirements was false and misleading because there were only around 100 active male members altogether. This amount could not be described as a substantial number – even without considering how far that number would have to be reduced to allow for compliance with her criteria.
Had Burki known what the true size of the active membership was, she would not have joined Seventy Thirty.
The claim for defamation
The agency counter-claimed Burki with allegations of defamation and malicious falsehood in connection with the two online reviews she wrote on Google and Yelp. This claim was tried at the same time as Burki’s claim.
The High Court held that Burki’s negative Google review was defamatory and awarded damages of £5000.
What can we learn from this case?
This case illustrates the consequences of inaccurate advertising and misrepresentation.
Businesses must ensure that any statements of fact that induce a customer to enter into the contract are true. The customer may otherwise have a claim for misrepresentation, which in turn could result in widespread adverse publicity.
This case also acts as a warning to those uploading negative reviews of services online. This case highlights that if a negative review causes serious harm for defamation purposes, then a claim for defamation could be brought against the writer. It is therefore important to think twice before expressing your disappointment online.
From the perspective of a business, its reputation is a valuable asset which can be destroyed by negative online reviews. With the increasing popularity of online publications and social media sites, damaging remarks can spread like wildfire.
If the reputation of your business is at stake then action must be taken quickly to minimise any long-term damage. Our experienced defamation protection team at Royds Withy King can act fast to limit the consequences. Contact us on:
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