A couple distraught over negative online reviews.

Can Leaving A Negative Online Business Review Ever Constitute Defamation?

On Behalf of Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire LLP
Jul 23, 2021

As Yelp, Google My Business, and other online review platforms become more and more popular, maintaining a track record of positive customer feedback has become necessary for businesses that want to compete in the digital age.

A single customer review can ruin a company’s reputation overnight, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise surprising that some unscrupulous consumers look to take advantage of the power that they hold. In addition, unethical competitors sometimes seek to gain an edge by “seeding” negative reviews against other businesses in the area.The good news, however, is that California defamation law does protect business owners against malicious online reviews in some situations.

Understanding the Requirements for a California Defamation Claim

For a statement to be considered defamatory in California, the statement must meet four criteria:

  1. The statement must be false.
  2. The statement appears in a publicly available, third-party resource.
  3. The party who made the statement did so with either great negligence or malicious intent.
  4. The statement resulted in substantial damages.

As the definition applies to online business reviews, the criteria above mean that:

  1. The online business review must contain demonstrably false information for it to meet the first criteria of defamation. However, what qualifies as a “false” review is often a complicated matter.
  2. The review must either currently be visible or have been visible on a public digital platform.
  3. Whoever left the review must have done so in a reckless manner or with the specific intent to damage the business.
  4. The business that was the subject of the review must be able to prove that the review caused significant financial or other damages. A large supplier citing the review as a reason for terminating a pre-existing relationship with the business, for example, might qualify as significant damage.

In Conclusion

If you suspect that your business has been the target of a malicious online review or an online smear campaign, then you may have legal options to pursue relief. An experienced defamation attorney might help you understand whether or not California law applies to your situation.