Removing Negative Reviews: Can You Sue Someone Who Leaves One?
Of course you can sue someone to remove negative reviews! This is America! You have the right to sue whomever for whatever you want (not saying you’ll win, but it’s certainly an option!).
All kidding aside, litigation has unfortunately proven an ineffective avenue for resolving issues related to online reviews. For business owners, doctors, and lawyers with whom we work, that sounds initially dissatisfying. Yes, Yelp! “filters” your genuine positive reviews into its land of invisibility on the basis of its sorting algorithm, meaning an option for recourse would be fantastic (but it doesn’t really exist). Google Reviews, Vitals, RateMDs, Avvo, and any number of other review sites will often include reviews that are either false, misleading, or both. Their lack of legitimate, transparent arbitration procedure means your good name has no protection against an online attack.
I can discuss with you personally some solutions to the issue, but I receive the question “Can I sue Yelp!/other review site/him/her?” often enough that it deserves a direct response.
So, here’s the skinny:
Online review sites are protected by free speech laws and the nuances around proving defamation, libel, or other types of spoliation claims. Consequently, review sites are extremely unlikely to respond to any claim you make about the quality or legitimacy of a review. Sometimes there’s an arbitration process. For example, RipOff Reports has one, but they won’t actually remove the review even if their process declares it false.
Should your lawsuit exist at all, direct it at the actual person who left the review. (On the record, we’re anti-lawsuit, primarily because lawsuits are public, generate press, and even a successful one won’t deter the next negative review.) If a judge decides in your favor, you can use the decision to request Google remove pages from their index related to the negative review left by that person. Moreover, some of the review sites will comply as well.
Tragically, even if your effort is successful, it may take months of effort. And make no mistake – lawsuits have bad karma. The person you sued could tell any number of untraceable, anonymous Internet users about their experience with you, resulting in even more negative reviews.
In short, it’s far more fruitful to take control of your reputation proactively than try to seek justice or revenge reactively.