Two stories in the news last month that were discussed in great detail by bloggers (and in some places, causing a lot of panic!) were the article about the French blogger fined because of a review and the follow up “Can a lone blogger bring down a business?”
The background on the French story – blogger wrote a negative review about a restaurant and gave it the title “The place to avoid in [city]” which ranked highly in Google searches for the restaurant name. The restaurant owner was (understandably) not happy, but instead of dealing with the blogger directly, they chose to take the case to court. The blogger had to pay a €1500 fine plus €1000 court costs, and decided to delete the original post instead of changing the title. It could be argued that the owners choice to peruse a court case has more negatively affected the restaurant, because if you Google the restaurant name, you’re now more likely to see articles about the court case!
Could that happen in the UK? It’s pretty unlikely. According to this article on the BBC, “British judges do not have the power to order bloggers to amend their writing simply because their criticism is too effective.” (Hooray!) There is some potential for a case, but a company would have to prove they have suffered “”serious” financial harm.” UK bloggers can use a defence of “honest opinion”, which “allows them to use supporting facts they learned only after writing their article.” It has also been argued that the French judge made their judgement without understanding how search rankings worked. Is that fair? Probably not.
We’ve all seen people threaten brands, especially on social media, that they’ll make a story go viral (which is a ridiculous thing to threaten anyway!). It’s fine to write a negative review, and can be a positive thing for a company if they deal with the complaint appropriately. A few years ago, I had a situation with a company which was inappropriately handled by an employee, but was then dealt with by the company in a way that was satisfactory. It was unintentional for the post to be as popular as it was, but at no point did the company threaten me for having an opinion.
tl; dr? Keep doing what you’re doing. Negative reviews (which we’ve discussed how to deal with on the site previously) are really important, not just for consumers who want a balanced opinion on how to spend their money, but for businesses to develop and improve their services.