Table of Contents
- The Basics: What is ConsumerAffairs.com?
- The Effect of Defamatory Reviews on Your Business
- Can I Hold ConsumerAffairs.com Liable for User-Generated Defamatory Reviews?
- Work with Experienced Online Defamation Removal Attorneys to Remove Malicious Content
The Basics: What is ConsumerAffairs.com?
Founded in 1998, ConsumerAffairs.com is an international consumer news and SaaS platform connecting consumers and brands. Contrary to popular belief, ConsumerAffairs is entirely independent, and is neither a government watchdog or organization, nor a non-profit organization. Boasting more than 1 million reviews, and 3,000 brands, CEO Zac Carman called the site an “opportunity to turn customer complaints into an opportunity for brands.”
But, what happens when a platform for “objective” and legitimate customer reviews becomes a safe-haven for defamation, illegitimate reviews, and mudslinging?
Despite ConsumerAffairs.com’s seasoned online presence, user friendly interface, and notable efforts to moderate reviews and content, it still poses a serious threat to a business’s or professional’s reputation and livelihood and should be approached with caution.
Defamation Law Removal Tip: Understanding the difference between an actionable defamation claim and a moot one is important, therefore you should acquaint yourself with the four primary defenses to defamation; truth, opinion, consent, and privilege.
Although ConsumerAffairs has “dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s” on the surface, defamatory, negative, and malicious reviews still go unnoticed and slip by even the most vigilant of website moderators. Coupled with strict no-removal policies, apparent review bias, and non-disclosure of paid affiliations, ConsumerAffairs not only endangers your business’s reputation, but its future.
3 Glaring Issues with ConsumerAffairs.com
- Strict No-Removal Policy After Passing First Round of Editorial Reviews: Although ConsumerAffairs’s strict no-removal policy is geared towards preventing businesses from bullying and manipulating consumers to remove reviews and posts, it carries grave consequences for wrongly and maliciously targeted businesses. Instead of providing swift recourse for injured professionals and businesses, ConsumerAffairs allows libelous and false reviews to remain online indefinitely, ultimately causing irreparable damage to one’s reputation.
- Extreme Review Bias Due to Paid Affiliations: In 2014, Truth In Advertising published an article titled, “Who is ConsumerAffairs.com Really Advocating For?” exposing ConsumerAffairs as a heavily biased platform where companies who failed to pay for its customer engagement platform and partnership, ConsumerAffairs for Brands, received significantly more negative reviews and ratings than those who didn’t and amounting to commercial blackmail. At the time, of the 115 companies subscribed to “Consumer Affairs for Brands,” more than 80% of paying companies received a rating of 3.5 stars or better, solidifying ConsumerAffairs.com as a de facto “pay-for-ratings enterprise.” Paying for positive reviews and ratings doesn’t come without spending a pretty penny, as even paying for the “Standard Package” costs $1,000 per month, with the “Premium Package” running businesses $5,000 per month.
- Inability to Dispute False and Defamatory Reviews: Businesses that don’t pay for ConsumerAffairs.com’s protection service, equivalent to an extortion fee, are unable to publicly respond to reviews, further tarnishing an innocent company’s reputation and public relations. Customer outreach and response is an integral part of a company’s reputation, and being denied that opportunity further skews reviews by distorting the reality of a company’s true practices.
A Case of Extortion, Defamation, and ConsumerAffairs.com
Supporting the extortion of websites for positive reviews and ratings on ConsumerAffairs.com is a 2015 case involving Consumer Cellular (CCI), an Oregon-headquartered mobile network operator.
After an unsuccessful pitching of their business protection and monitoring service to Consumer Cellular, for the bargain price of $15,000 for the first month and $5,000 thereafter, ConsumerAfffairs.com redirected a positive CCI review to their “complaints and reviews” page, and abstained from posting other positive CCI reviews. CCI brought suit alleging (i) defamation, (ii) intentional interference with prospective economic relations, (iii) a claim under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and (iv) for violations under Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act.
In the Magistrate Judge’s Opinion and Order, Judge Papak noted, “…in addition to not permitting CCI to respond to or challenge negative reviews or to benefit from more favorable presentation of legitimately submitted third-party reviews, also affirmatively suppressed positive reviews without informing users of its webpage that it had done so, and indicated that it would continue doing so unless CCI became an accredited member.”
Ultimately, Papak denied ConsumerAffair’s motion to dismiss and reasoned, “It is thus CCI’s position that defendants attempted to extort tens of thousands of dollars in accredited membership fees from CCI under threat of improper harm to its reputation and to its business. As such, CCI has adequately alleged the predicate act of extortion…” Although the outcome of the case has not yet been determined, but it is clear from court reasoning, ConsumerAffairs does engage in odious and duplicitous practices and should be approached with skepticism and caution.
Defamation Law Fact: Fair comment on a matter of public interest is a lesser-known defense to defamation, and is available when a defendant makes a statement, in honest belief, on a matter of public interest. As long as the statement is one that a reasonable person could honestly entertain, defendants will enjoy protection under “fair comment.”
The Effect of Defamatory Reviews on Your Business
Online defamatory reviews and ratings carry immeasurable consequences for your business’s reputation, customer retention, and livelihood. Staying vigilant and employing a proactive approach to monitoring your business’s digital footprint could mean the difference between your most profitable year yet, and having to close your doors.
A 2017, BrightLocal consumer report, found that in 2017, roughly 97% of consumers used the Internet to research products and businesses, up 2% from 2016. Additionally, the report noted consumers were searching more frequently, and identified key industries and businesses consumers are reading reviews for.
- Restaurant and Cafe,
- Bed & Breakfast,
- Medical and Healthcare, and
- Clothing stores.
What does this mean for my business?
Naturally, there’s a higher correlation between frequency of use, and the likelihood a consumer will be researching online reviews. Consumers engage with, and frequent local cafes and restaurants daily, as opposed to the yearly trip to a locksmith (the least researched), or meeting with an accountant. However, both high and low frequented businesses stand to suffer consequences in their own ways.
For high-frequented and high-volume businesses, it’s not always the easiest to form personal relationships with each customer. A large sample size of reviews is typically self-correcting, weeding out any prejudicial outliers, and giving a relatively accurate picture of your business’s reputation. But, with more customers and traffic, comes more exposure; good and the bad. Additionally, popular businesses may have more disgruntled competitors, who will do anything in their power to gain a marginal edge in their respective market, including posting false reviews.
For low-frequented, low-volume, and fragmented businesses, owners don’t enjoy the luxury of having hundreds, or even thousands of customers coming in a day, all potential positive reviewers. If you only have a handful reviews and ratings online, overcoming false and malicious posts through the benefit of a large, self-correcting sample, is not an option. For instance, the dental industry is extremely fragmented, and nearly 86% of dentists practice as solo practitioners. Even one bad review can be devastating for a solo-practitioner who relies off referrals and personal interactions.
Defamation Law Tip: One interesting defense to defamation is when a claimant is incapable of further defamation. A claimant is incapable of further defamation when their reputation is established, poor, and stands to suffer no actual damage from a defamatory statement. Such claimant is deemed “libel-proof,” as damages are an essential element when proving defamation.
Can I Hold ConsumerAffairs.com Liable for User-Generated Defamatory Reviews?
The short answer: No.
ConsumerAffairs.com is a user-generated, third party interactive computer service, protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). Section 230 of the CDA provides, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information by another information content provider.” Here, the “information content providers” are platform users, while ConsumerAffairs and other similar sites are merely a neutral, third-party platform.
In order for a website to quality for immunity and protection under the CDA, courts generally apply a three-part test, where all prongs must be satisfied.
- The defendant must be a “provider or user” of an “interactive computer service,”
- The plaintiff must treat the defendant as the “publisher or speaker” of the harmful information at issue, and
- The information must be provider by another information content provider.”
ConsumerAffairs qualifies for immunity under the CDA due to not actually acting as the true provider, publisher, or speaker of defamatory and false reviews and ratings, and had their immunity upheld in the below case of Nemet Chevrolet v. ConsumerAffairs.com.
Nemet Chevrolet v. ConsumerAffairs.com
In 2009, Nemet, a Virginia-based car dealership, received over twenty negative online posts on ConsumerAffairs.com about their automobiles and service.Nemet brought suit against ConsumerAffairs for defamation and tortious interference, arguing the consumer review platform did not qualify for protection under the CDA’s safe harbor provision because they were in fact an information provider.
Ultimately, Nemet’s suit was dismissed, with the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirming ConsumerAffair’s immunity, as their users were not “required” to post defamatory, malicious, and unlawful material. Additionally, the court found there were no alterations, original comments, or edits on any of the posts, a fact that would otherwise disqualify websites from enjoying CDA immunity.
Defamation Law Fact: Falling under personal injury, defamation actions are subject to the statute of limitations. Most states apply a one year limitation to slander actions, and a two to three year limitation to libel claims. When determining if your claim is still valid, it’s best to acquaint yourself with your state’s specific statute of limitations time-frames.
Work with Experienced Online Defamation Removal Attorneys to Remove Malicious Content
Although ConsumerAffairs.com hails itself as an objective platform for unbiased and trustworthy reviews, the reality is it’s nothing more than a website to sell advertising for positive reviews and coerce non-paying businesses into purchasing a scam protection service. With a majority of legitimate and reputable businesses receiving one and two star ratings, it’s clear ConsumerAffairs is not to be trusted.
If you’ve found a false post(s) about you or your business on ConsumerAffairs.com, call or email the defamation removal lawyers of Minc, LLC today. At Minc, LLC, we leave no stone unturned, and will fight for you and your business’s reputation. We know the ins and outs of online defamation, and know how to effectively confront malicious posters, and negotiate removals with website administrators and content managers. Additionally, if it requires, we will seek a court-ordered removal, and work with Google and other online search engines to permanently delete a defamatory digital footprint.
When contacting us, here’s what you can expect:
- Websites Respond to Minc Law: Our established team of attorneys has a proven history of removing defamatory online content. We know who to contact, and how to contact them. Additionally, we know that time is of the essence when dealing with online defamation, therefore, we work swiftly, and get results.
- You Will Be Treated with Courtesy and Respect: At Minc Law, our goals are your goals. Your consultation is confidential, and we are always on your side.
- We Will Work With You: After commencing the takedown process, we will stay in constant contact with you concerning the details of your case via phone, text, email, or whatever is most convenient for you.
Defamation Law Tip: The single-publication rule is a principle governing libel suits, and deterrent to frivolous defamation suits, which considers a mass publishing of a false statement as a single communication, thus giving rise to only one action. Its purpose aligns with the depth of the Internet and seeks to avoid a “multiplicity of actions” against a defendant, allowing a claimant to recover all damages at once.