Yelp/ Youtube reviews have become ubiquitous. Almost every business gets reviewed, some positive and some negative. While positive reviews are always welcomed, negative reviews scorn some business owners to the extent that they contact us for legal advice.
Here is a hypothetical conversation between a business owner and us:
“I want to sue them!”
“They wrote a negative review about my business. This is defamation!”
Well, only reviews which have false assertion of facts are defamatory, other statements are mere opinions.
“So they can write whatever they want to about me and my business, I am losing money!”
If the statement of facts are not false and the only offending statement is that they do not like your product, goods, services, etc. then such speech is an opinion and is protected under the First Amendment.
“What if I still sue them? That will force them to remove the review, right?”
Wrong. In most states, including California, anti-SLAPP statutes protect the free speech rights of the speaker. If the lawsuit is frivolous, you will have to pay the legal fees of the opposing counsel when the case gets dismissed.
“So I do not have any recourse?”
While we empathize with you and understand how negative reviews affect your business, only false assertions of facts (and conclusions drawn from them) are defamatory. So the first thing one may want to do is to ensure whether any statement of fact is false. If no false assertion is made, and the only offending statements are those that are the subjective opinion of the speaker, then such statements are not defamatory.
As an example, if the speaker states, “I went to xyz restaurant, and the restaurant is dirty. Do not go here,” these statements are a subjective opinion and not defamatory. However, if the statements included additional facts justifying why the speaker perceived the restaurant to be dirty, if those additional statements are factually false (e.g., the server threw garbage on the floor causing a health hazard) then the review can be defamatory.