Dennis BeaverJune 26, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver 

At one time or another every business will have a negative review about them posted on social media. If that’s already happened to you, it’s no secret that this is frustrating, and highly upsetting, especially if there is no basis for the comment.

“How can I get it removed?” will be your first thoughts.

That’s exactly what one of the owners of Louisville, Ky. Hi-Five Doughnuts thought, “When we saw what was written about us by a former, disgruntled employee. “Annie Harlow said. “We were deeply saddened, as there was no basis for the slanderous comments which resulted in lowering our reviews on Google.”

 Bad Review = Real Financial Consequences

“Given the fact that the first place many of us go before making a purchase, a service or patronizing a restaurant is the internet, a bad review can have very real consequences,” Houston-based attorney, Paul M. Sternberg, author of “The Guide to Internet Defamation and Website Removal” points out, adding:

“People do not realize how devastating, the ramifications and the damage bad reviews can do.  ‘Maybe this is true. Why should I take a risk with them?’ is precisely what we often think when reading a bad review. Sternberg lists the negative consequences for a business:

(1) Loss of Revenue;

(2) Low search engine ranking;

(3) Damage to business reputation;

(4) Chases customers away, leading to decreased profitability.

Do Not Expect Help From Google or other Web Sites

“Google and most websites have gotten tough,” Sternberg observes. “They do not normally get involved. They do not want to decide who is right. But it can happen, and there are instances of a defamed company reaching a person at Google in a position to remove a defamatory post. However, I must stress this is not a given.”

So, then, what should you do? Sternberg sets out a strategy that has been proven to work “In 95% of the time.”

Steps to Take

(1) Become a detective. That person wants revenge – you should remember the problem customer or the employee who you fired.

(2) That person has the right to remove the negative comment. The internet really isn’t anonymous. We find out who wrote it and send them a cease and desist letter which says,
‘Take it down or face a lawsuit.’

(3) Once they get that letter, in our experience, they almost always back off and take it down.

(4) If not, enlist the help of your customers in sending in honest reviews over a three to four months period of time, but cautions against being overly positive to avoid raising suspicion.

(5) If the complaint was about cleanliness, then post your own, truthful response, such as

“I have years of outstanding, A-Grades for cleanliness at my restaurant.”

Sternberg suggests that using a website’s arbitration program, if they have one, is also possible. 

“The cost is around $4,000. This requires all parties to agree. But realize there are a lot of crazy people who use the internet as a form of legalized extortion over relatively small amounts of money. They agree to take down the bad post if you pay them. Welcome to the Wild West of Social Media!”

Hi-Five Doughnuts – Late for Work, Written Up, Gets Even

An employee at Hi-Five Doughnuts, was chronically late for work, failing to show up at 6:30 in the morning. “Finally we wrote her up for it, and she walked off the job.”

To a small company with only eight employees, one just walking out puts a strain on all the others. “In her twisted mind, we were the bad guys,” Harlow stated. The employee gave them a two week notice to quit.

Four hours later High-Five Doughnuts received a one-star Google review labeling them as an abilist (someone who makes fun of the disabled) and homophobic. The person’s name was attached to the review. We looked him up and found that he is friends with the disgruntled employee.

What Hi-Five Doughnuts Did

“After freaking-out, we spoke with a friend who is an attorney. He recommended that we contact Google, which we did via email which led to a phone call from customer service. That person recognized this was slanderous and trade libel.
“It took about a month for it to be taken down.”

I asked, “What have you learned from all of this?”

“You can hide behind a computer screen and make up lies about people.  To have that written about us hurt our soul.  We took it to heart.  To make up something that is so false and out of our character was painful. We should have let her go when it became clear that she would never report for work on time.” 

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.