For business owners and professionals, being the subject of an article or report on an online complaint site such as Gripeo.com can be extremely damaging. Sites like Gripeo rank highly in internet searches, often on the first page of keyword results for their victims. The page created about you may be an original work or a compilation of already existing negative content, such as bad reviews, negative press, or disparaging social media posts. Either way, it is designed to cause enough damage to force you to take some remedial actions.
Shaming websites are for profit business operations. There is no membership fee required of their users to create accounts and post on their platforms. But how do they make money? Sure, they may have a few advertisers. But they also profit by charging fees to exercise their editorial control and remove (or de-index) any post published on their platforms.
But, wait a minute. Does that not sound like extortion? It certainly feels like extortion to the victims of these posts. However, shaming websites never approach you before the content is published demanding money. Nor do they approach you after it is published.
Rather, they utilize search engine optimization (SEO) to make the post as prominent as possible and force you to contact them. There never is a demand to pay money “or else.” The law has found no solution to this issue and one may not be possible without a major shift in federal legislation.
Should you choose to sue the website, it will claim protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and that defense would likely prevail in court. Regardless, the removal fees they typically charge are dwarfed by the expense which would be incurred litigating the issue with no guarantee of success. The choice can often boil down to paying a four figure sum to permanently remove the post or paying a five or even six figure sum to attempt to remove the post through potentially years of litigation. For risk averse businesses and professionals, the more distasteful of these two options is often the right one.
To be clear, you have the right to sue the person who posted the report on Gripeo or any other shaming website. Especially in situations where multiple platforms are being used and the attacks are ongoing, a lawsuit may be necessary to make it stop. Because the posts are almost always anonymous, any litigation is likely to begin with the filing of a lawsuit against a John Doe defendant and seeking to unmask the culprit through discovery. Obviously, some circumstances are too dire to allow time for that process to play out, and it also requires a much larger budget. Money and patience are, unfortunately, two things you may find in shorter supply when under attack.
No matter the situation when dealing with Gripeo and similar sites, it is always best to consult with an experienced attorney prior to making any decisions. You are not necessarily looking for an attorney who has years of general experience. You need to speak with someone who has successfully navigated these waters for previous clients. A qualified legal counsel should be able to advise you on all of the following:
- The merits of any litigation you may wish to pursue to unmask the author/publisher and pursue damages and other relief;
- The costs, risks, and rewards of litigation vs. the costs and benefits of a negotiated fee for removal;
- Anticipated costs for removal both in terms of legal fees paid to your counsel and removal fees paid to the site;
- Expected length of time to achieve success through each potential avenue;
- The ability and cost to both immediately remove the post and pursue litigation to unmask the poster.
At Minc Law, we have proven experience removing damaging and defamatory reports from Gripeo and other similar sites. We have successfully negotiated removals from almost every major shaming website and we have achieved removal and de-indexing through court order as well.
In this article, we provide information on Gripeo specifically and the impact of defamatory content on shaming websites in general. We further provide useful advice on how to obtain effective relief from the damage these sites seek to cause.
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Gripeo: An Online Complaint Portal
Gripeo is an online complaint platform on which internet users can post “gripe reports” and other feedback about purported business interactions. Think of it like Google Reviews and Yelp but with a focus on the negative; specifically, warning other users about potential scams or unethical business practices.
Due to that focus and its offer of anonymity through an account creation process that does little (if anything) to verify the identities or authenticity of its users, Gripeo is an attractive platform for individuals, including competitors, to post unjustified and defamatory attacks for malicious purposes.
What Are Shaming Websites?
Because it is so easy to inflict reputational damage through the Internet, an entire industry of shaming websites, complaint portals, and scam sites has emerged to capitalize on people’s pain. A shaming website is a largely unmoderated online platform where users are encouraged to post alarming complaints and scandalous accusations about a person, business, or product.
Competitors, disgruntled ex-employees, and personal adversaries will use the cloak of anonymity offered by shaming websites to inflict irreparable injury to the reputation and other interests of their target.
Is Gripeo Considered a Shaming Website?
Gripeo is a gripe site which has many characteristics in common with other well known shaming websites, such as:
Unlike cheater websites which are focused on accusations of infidelity or mugshot sites which publish arrest records, Gripeo and the shaming sites similar to it target businesses and professionals and their interactions with consumers. That is noteworthy because speech aimed at consumer protection is often afforded greater Constitutional deference.
Regardless of that outwardly facing good faith intent, the platforms offered by Gripeo and other similar sites are far too easy to abuse.
Furthermore, because Gripeo at least claims to be comprised of content contributed by third party users, it takes the position that it is immune from legal liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (more on this below).
How Does Gripeo Work?
Similar to other shaming and consumer complaint websites, users can visit Gripeo’s website, freely create an account, and post a review or complaint. By agreeing with the Gripeo’s terms of service (TOS), users irrevocably assign to Gripeo a license to display the content the user publishes on its platform.
This means that, while Gripeo is not legally liable for the harm the post may cause, it has a permanent license to display its user’s contribution. Moreover, this license strips the users of their editorial control over the post. Once it is published, only Gripeo can remove the post.
Therefore, if you are the target of a damaging report on Gripeo, you must deal directly with Gripeo to have the content removed — which, as addressed below, can be a complicated task full of risks.
Impact of Gripeo Reports on Individuals & Businesses
Gripeo is a relatively popular website, with traffic of at least 100,000 monthly readers and more than 3000 reviews submitted to date. With that large of a reach, content posted on Gripeo has the potential to damage your business severely.
In this section, we explore the possible negative effects of false and damaging content on Gripeo, as well as why you may want to have it removed if you find yourself victimized.
What Are the Negative Effects of Defamatory Content Posted on Gripeo?
There are many ways negative reviews can damage you and your business. Consumers are greatly influenced by online reviews; in fact, 94% of consumers choose to avoid a business if they read a negative review — and the more negative reviews a business has, the more likely a customer will be to steer clear.
Negative reviews or posts on platforms like Gripeo can certainly have a direct impact on your revenue and bottom line. In some dire cases, businesses may even be forced to close due to the damaging effects of a defamatory post on the first page of Google search results.
Not only can defamatory content affect your revenue and sales, but it can also have compounding effects such as damaging your brand’s public reputation and making it difficult to attract and retain quality talent.
Reasons to Remove Defamatory Content From Gripeo
When you or your business are attacked on a site like Gripeo, the harm can be immeasurable. Besides a customer complaint portal containing negative information about you being highly visible in your search results, there are additional ways a defamatory post on Gripeo can cause a cascading negative effect — which we address below.
Prominent in Search Results
When considering whether to patronize a business or professional, most consumers do not visit Gripeo and search for “John Smith” or “Acme Co.” Instead, they search for that professional or business on Google, the world’s most widely utilized search engine (by far). If there is a post about you on its website, Gripeo will appear among your other prominent search results, such as those results you want consumers to find.
Gripeo prioritizes SEO (search engine optimization). The aim of SEO is to increase visibility in search results and improve the quantity and quality of online traffic.
As a result, Gripeo is very likely to appear on the first page of Google results for keywords contained in each report, such as your name or your business’s name. Perhaps worse yet, one New York Times report found that, for more than half of victims of online slander, posts on gripe sites appear at the top of their image results.
And search engines such as Google often go a step further than simply listing page titles and links; they display what they consider to be the most relevant phrases or images about whatever the user is searching for in what is called a “snippet.” As a result, a casual reader might see the worst contents of a defamatory post after a simple Google search for your name without even visiting the page.
Gripeo Has Survived De-listings By Google
After a series of New York Times articles on shaming and cheater sites, Google began delisting many shaming sites from its search indexes. By doing so, the sites would no longer appear in search results no matter the search terms used.
In furtherance of these efforts, Google has now also implemented an exploitative removal practices portal where users can ask Google to remove search results for sites that require victims to pay money to remove harmful content about them.
However, Gripeo has somehow remained largely unaffected by these purges — and Gripeo-related requests on Google’s exploitative removal practices portal are usually unsuccessful. This is probably because, at least on its face, Gripeo has more to do with business scams, gripes, and professional dealings as opposed to personal issues, such as infidelity, marital affairs, and STDs.
Regardless, the other search engines have not taken the same steps as Google and most of these sites remain prominently displayed on Bing (which also powers Yahoo!’s search bar) and DuckDuckGo, among others.
The Art of Aggregating: Comprehensive Complaint Reports Against a Business or Professional
Another feature of Gripeo’s platform is that it displays compilation posts of a person or business’s negative publicity which are aggregated from around the web. Whether these more complex pages are constructed by Gripeo or some third party user is not an issue this article addresses. Gripeo certainly would take the position that it plays no part in the process other than providing the user generated platform on which they are published.
Whether the author is Gripeo or some user, these pages and articles differ from most shaming site posts in that they are mostly if not exclusively comprised of re-publications of something that is already available online or is otherwise a matter of public record.
If your business has received negative media or derogatory reviews, or has been the subject of lawsuits, it may all be aggregated into one large page titled under your name on Gripeo. Like most Gripeo pages, that post will be optimized to rank highly in search results. The effect is that the very first page of search results for your name will have a page dedicated to the most negative content that can be dug up about you. You can have 1000 positive reviews on Google and Yelp and that page may only display the five worst.
Why Can It Be Difficult to Remove Defamatory Content From Gripeo?
In most situations, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms like Gripeo from legal liability. In fact, Section 230 has been found to not simply be an affirmative defense; it acts as an outright bar to suit.
For all of its flaws and the loopholes it creates, Section 230 is premised on sound public policy. Search engines like Google and social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, which facilitate the free flow of information, could not operate without its protection. If Facebook could be sued each time someone posted something defamatory on its platform, there would be no Facebook. If Google could be sued for each defamatory web page its algorithm returned as a search result, there would be no Google.
Due to this protection under the law, threatening to sue Gripeo is not likely to result in removal of a post. Gripeo is well aware that even the most creative legal arguments will not override a federal statute which essentially provides blanket immunity.
But the key to Section 230, essential to all such website’s business models, is that the exercise of editorial discretion does not strip the site of its protection. Facebook can delete or modify a post published by one of its users without losing the immunity Section 230 provides. Google can choose which results to display and what snippets appear for those results. Similarly, Gripeo has full and unfettered discretion to remove or edit a post on its site.
To the extent immediate relief is necessary, your goal is to convince Gripeo to exercise that discretion. This is not a simple undertaking or one devoid of risks, which is why it is best to retain an attorney who has the experience necessary to avoid mishandling the matter and the possible negative effects which could result (such as a Streisand Effect).
For further reading, please see our comprehensive resource ‘Can I Sue Google?’
How to Remove Articles, Reports, & Complaints From Gripeo
If someone is utilizing Gripeo to defame you or your business, you should take action quickly.
Not only do statutes of limitations place a time limit in which you can bring a lawsuit against the culprit, but the longer the content remains published online, the higher the risk it will spread or go viral. Shaming sites are constantly “re-publishing” content they steal from one of their competitor sites. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to lose any sense of containment on the problem.
Determine if the Content is Defamatory
If a lawsuit is desired, defamation is the most likely cause of action which will arise out of a publication on Gripeo. However, there may be alternative claims to explore, such as business disparagement claims, invasion of privacy torts, and copyright laws.
To succeed on a defamation claim in most jurisdictions, the speech at issue must satisfy the following four elements:
- A false statement of fact concerning you or your business,
- communicated by the defendant to a third party.
- with at least a negligent level of fault, and
- resulting in damage to you and/or your business.
But be aware that there are strong and abundant defenses to defamation and several applicable privileges, some of which can defeat a defamation or other speech related claim no matter the amount of damage which has resulted.
For example, if the statement is one of opinion (“This lawyer is far below average as a blogger”), it cannot be considered defamatory.
Work With an Experienced Attorney to Explore Your Removal Options
Online defamation is a relatively new and still-developing area of law, which means that its outcomes are not always dictated by case law precedent from the previous century. Your representative should be experienced specifically in online defamation and more specifically as it relates to sites such as Gripeo.
You may find advertisements from online reputation management (ORM) companies for removal services from these sites. That is certainly an option. However, a word of caution. While attorneys are licensed and bound by strict ethical rules, ORM companies are not overseen by any regulatory authority. Little or no recourse is offered if they commit professional negligence or engage in nefarious actions. The worst of the bunch will actually make your problems worse because, once retained, it is in their financial interest to make a mess they have to clean up.
One issue we have repeatedly encountered is when a client has previously hired an ORM company which took an ill-advised aggressive approach with sites like Gripeo. For instance, if the ORM company has flooded Gripeo’s hosting provider or Google with invalid copyright violation notices, any viable solution through Gripeo will become much more difficult (and expensive). In some extreme circumstances, sites such as Gripeo will refuse to offer any relief simply due to the hostility it has already encountered.
Another risk is that an ORM company that knows how to fix your reputation, knows just as well how to destroy it if your relationship goes south. Some of these companies have close relationships with the various shaming websites and, if you have a dispute with the ORM service, you may find that the website will offer no relief unless you pay whatever the ORM claims you may owe for its own services you chose not to utilize.
Experienced internet defamation attorneys, on the other hand, are bound by professional rules. And, of course, an attorney can file and pursue a lawsuit if needed.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Engaging a Law Firm or ORM Service
When choosing a representative (whether it is a law firm or an ORM service), choose the individual—not the agency. Make sure to ask yourself the following questions about the person who may represent you:
- Do you know the individual’s full name and physical address (where their business is located)?
- Are you able to meet with them in person if you so desire?
- Does their website contain specific information about their practice and demonstrate their experience in this area?
You should have concerns if you only know them by first name, you can not see a picture of them on their website, and you can not go to their office and shake their hand.
What Can I Do if the Publisher is Anonymous?
If you desire to know the identity of the person who published the content on Gripeo and hold that person accountable, you can file a John Doe lawsuit and utilize the discovery process to unmask the culprit’s identity. In that scenario, retaining an experienced internet defamation attorney is essential.
We Can Help Remove Fake Reports From Gripeo
At Minc Law, we have successfully helped various individuals and businesses successfully remove false and damaging reviews or reports from Gripeo.
“Obtaining this legal representation saved our buisness. Minc Law represented and defended us against defamation so our customers didn’t have to. Minc Law gave us a voice and Daniel Powell made sure we were heard and considered in each part of the process. He also provided practical advice that helped us avoid a snowball effect, and added a human element while dealing with social media organizations.”
Apr 12, 2022
If you or your business are the targets of fake online reviews, contact us today to schedule your initial no-obligation consultation with an intake specialist by calling (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.