By:  Aaron Minc, Principal & Founder

As all small business owners know, online opinion-sharing websites can make or break a business. A number of positive reviews can drive business to your restaurant, home improvement business, or professional services. However, even a single negative review – especially a one star review – can frighten away potential clients and customers before you even have a chance to explain your side of the story or to tell the individual that the review is fabricated. In some cases a negative review can effectively kill a business.

When the review is accurate or deserved, most business owners will be unhappy about its existence but they can usually accept it and use it to improve the business. However, when the review is inaccurate, fraudulent, engages in unwarranted and unjustified personal attacks, or is simply false such a situation cannot be allowed to stand.

From Home Improvement Project To a Negative Yelp Review

Staten Island woman Emily Fanelli was seeking a contractor to repair or replace the floors in her home. Ms. Fanelli took her search for a reputable contractor online using the website using the site Ms. Fanelli found a contractor that promised to refinish the floors in her home while utilizing “green methods.” That is, the process would not entail the traditional sanding and use of chemical polyurethane. Rather, the floors would be shined and polished using less harsh and more natural methods.

Unfortunately the results of the re-finishing job were far from what Ms. Fanelli apparently expected. She claims that rather than receiving the shiny acrylic floor coating that she was promised, the end result was dull and discolored floors.

Ms. Fanelli apparently engaged with the company to fix the job. Remedial measures were taken but these efforts were not up to her satisfaction. Ms. Fanelli then turned to social media to make her displeasure with the company and its owner known. Ms. Fanelli went on the website where she criticized the company owner, Matt Gardiner, characterizing him as a “con artist” and as a “liar.” Ms. Fanelli’s social media review spree didn’t end here. She also logged onto her Yelp account and posted a review that stated:

“this guy mat the owner is a scam do not use him you will regret doing business with this company I’m going to court he is a scam customers please beware he will destroy your floors he is nothing by a liar he robs customers, and promises you everything if you want s— then go with him if you like nice work find another he is A SCAM LIAR BULL—-ER

Two weeks later she went back onto Yelp and posted complaints about her floors. She also sought contact information from any other person who had used this company. Ms. Fanelli filed a lawsuit against the company and the company’s owner countersued in response to Ms. Fanelli’s scathing online reviews that not only criticized the work performed by the company but also personally attacked the company owner.

Defamation Removal Tip: Yelp is not the only online review platform that sees high volumes of traffic and consumer reviews. Google is the go-to review platform for many to post and read business reviews. If your business is the target of online defamation or negative reviews on Google, we recommend checking out our article on how to remove Google reviews

Judge Finds the Yelp Review Was Defamatory & Not Protected Speech

The ruling from the Staten Island Civil court Judge Phillip Straniere illustrates some of the limits of free speech including when opinion crosses the line into slander or libel. In his opinion Judge Straniere recognized that there were elements of opinion contained within the Yelp review, however the exact language used in the post crossed the line from opinion to defamation. He wrote that the use of terms such as “con artist”, “scam”, and “robs” implies more than a contract gone bad reaching levels of criminal wrongdoing. The judge wrote, “[These terms] were personal in their invective and were designed to impugn his integrity and business practices with the intent to damage his business reputation.”

How Can I Stop Internet Defamation and Get My Business Back to Work?

If you or your business have been unfairly targeted by a customer or a client or if a third party is posting false and untrue information about you or your business, we can help and make the abuse stop. Attorney Aaron Minc is experienced in handling online defamation concerns. He can fight for you or your business, work to get the false reviews removed, and can take additional appropriate action. To schedule a no cost, private online defamation consultation call (216) 373-7706 or contact us online.

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