Online review websites such as TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon often
decide for us where the best place to eat is or where best to wash
our car. It has become routine for many of us to avoid that
guesthouse with the rude manager based solely on Joe Citizen's
negative review posted on Hostelworld. In fact, we often don't
think twice about the consequences of posting a negative online
Flippant online reviewers should be alive to the fact that some
negative comments posted online may potentially have very real
legal repercussions. One option is for some small businesses to sue
malicious punters for defamation.
To make out the defamation claim, the following will need to be
established in Court:
The comment is 'defamatory' – that is, the
comment must damage the business's reputation in the eyes of
The defamatory comment was published to at least one other
person (not including the defamed business); and
The defamatory comment identifies the defamed business.
Under the Defamation Act (WA) 2005, small businesses (having
fewer than 10 employees) are allowed to sue in defamation for
material posted on online review websites. For a small business to
be successful in mounting a defamation case, it will have to prove
that the published material was not the honest opinion of the
reviewer, or that the reviewer was acting maliciously. In other
words, the reviewer's intention must have been to damage the
reputation of the business. Unfortunately, malicious reviewers
often betray this very intention with extreme language and repeated
targeting of a particular business.
It is also worth noting that while opinions cannot be
defamatory, just because a person labels something as their
'opinion', does not make it so. Likewise while truth is a
defence to defamation, it may still be a costly and time consuming
exercise to prove this in Court. Consequently, it is important for
keyboard warriors to be mindful of the comments they publish online
about certain businesses.
HHG Legal Group has successfully pursued reviewers engaged in
such conduct, and protected businesses who are the victims.
Sometimes this has required careful forensic work tracking down the
keyboard warrior who hides behind an alias or has multiple email
If you believe that you are the victim of online defamation, you
need to act swiftly. Start by speaking to our experienced
Commercial Litigation team so we can help you minimise and repair
the damage done to your online reputation.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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