Can You Sue Over a Bad Review in the U.S.?

As a U.S. business owner, what legal action can you take if you get a bad online review from a customer?

When you’re building a business, you want to do everything you can to provide stellar products and/or services to your customers. When you operate at a high standard, you’ll gain a reputation as a business that people can trust and rely on—and that reputation will continually drive new customers your way.

Online reviews play a huge role in building that reputation. When potential customers research your business and read glowing, five-star reviews, they’re going to want to reach out and do business with you. But if they read a bad review (even if it’s biased, unfair or completely untrue), it’s going to do the opposite—and send those customers straight to your competitors.

As a business owner, you want to do everything you can to effectively deal with negative reviews so they don’t ruin your business’ reputation and keep customers from working with you.

But what do you do when you get an unfair or untrue comment? How do you handle the situation? And can you (or should you) take it as far as suing for defamation?

Who Can You Sue Over a Bad Review?

To be honest, the answer is: It depends.

For the most part, reviews are covered under the First Amendment, which protects free speech. Additionally, 34 U.S. states have passed Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws. Anti-SLAPP is intended to prevent people or businesses from silencing or censoring their critics by intimidating them with the threat of a lawsuit.

Thanks to these protections, if a customer is unhappy with your products or services, or the experiences they’ve had with your business, they have the right to say so—whether that be in person, over the phone or online.

There are, however, exceptions. If a customer posts a review that is factually inaccurate or contains accusations about your business that are untrue, you may have grounds to sue the online reviewer for defamation.

The best way to distinguish between the two? Any review that contains a customer’s opinions or factual information about your business would be covered under free speech. Some examples of content that would be covered under the First Amendment include:

“That business charges an arm and a leg!” “I wasn’t happy with the level of service I received.” “The customer service representative was rude.”

On the other hand, any review that contains blatant factual inaccuracies that harm your business could be grounds for a defamation lawsuit. Some examples of content that might allow you to sue (assuming the content is untrue) include:

“This company does not have a license to provide their services.” “One of the workers stole an expensive watch while painting my home.” “This company charged me for services that they never delivered—and have refused to return my money.”

Before you even consider suing, make sure you distinguish whether the comment would even qualify as defamation—or if it would be protected under the First Amendment.

Can You Sue Review Sites Directly?

There are certain scenarios where you would be able to sue a reviewer over a bad review (namely if it contained factual inaccuracies that harmed your business).

But what about the site where the review is hosted? Can you

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