In Negative SEO and legal remedies I noted that one form of negative SEO is “where an unscrupulous person posts fake and negative reviews about a competitor’s goods or services with a view to lowering the competitor’s average popularity ranking and therefore reducing its page rank, e.g., in particular commercial services, for popularity-based searches.”
When discussing various potential remedies for negative SEO, I noted that one potential remedy for fake reviews is a civil action for defamation.
On 6 March 2015, the English High Court delivered its judgment in a case involving a fake review where the action that was successfully pursued against the wrongdoer was indeed defamation: The Bussey Law Firm PC & Anor v Page  EWHC 563. I thought I’d give a quick rundown on this case given its relevance to the negative SEO post.
The claimants were a law firm and a particular lawyer within the firm who practises law in Colorado, United States. As the Court explained, someone posted a defamatory allegation on the lawyer’s Google Maps profile, alongside a number of positive reviews of his firm and the services offered, which rated them as “excellent”. The Court observed that the “offending post was not only directly defamatory of both claimants, but also inevitably had the effect of undermining those commendations”. The fake review was in the following terms:
“A Google User received 10 months ago
Overall Poor to fair
Scumbag [name of lawyer], pays for false reviews, loses 80% of his cases.
Not a happy camper
3 out of 3 found this review helpful”
The lawyer had obtained a firm of California lawyers to obtain a subpoena in respect of Google’s records and from those records could prove that the fake review had been made from the defendant’s Google account. The defendant, however, advanced “certain hypothetical explanations as to how an unidentified third party might have posted the allegations via his account but without his knowledge”.
On the evidence before it, the Court wasn’t having a bar of the defendant’s position, concluding that “the overwhelming probability [was] that he [was] responsible for the posting from his account on the date in question and for its remaining accessible thereafter”.
Interestingly, one of the pieces of evidence before the court was that the defendant had advertised on Twitter as being willing to post “feedback” or a “testimonial” (a description which the Court noted corresponded to the posting complained of) for $5 via fiverr.com.
The court found the defendant liable for defamation and awarded £50,000 to the claimants. The judge would have awarded more but the claimants had placed a voluntary cap of that amount on the damages claimed.
The moral of this story? If you suffer from fake reviews, you may well be able to sue the wrongdoer in defamation (if you’re able to identify the ratbag). Oh, and be careful what you do for a fiver!
(Featured image: Aquir / Bigstock.com)