5 things you can do to combat false and disparaging Google reviews by Me Zakine, Doctor of Law
Someone has left you a disparaging, shameless, erroneous and aggressive post on your google page and google services won't remove it. You think it's disgraceful that a stranger or someone with bad intentions should ruin your reputation.
What can you do about it? Here's a 5-point answer, from the amicable option to the more serious one.
Maître Zakine, Lawyer and Doctor of Law, answers your possible options by listing them.
A Google review is a comment or assessment posted on a professional's Google page, accompanied by a rating of up to five stars. These comments are of vital importance to the reputation of a company or a self-employed professional, as they often influence a new customer's decision to use their services. Who hasn't heard a new customer say: "I looked at your online reviews and they gave me confidence"? This shows that comments are read and taken into account.
However, an unfavourable review can lead to a professional's rating being lowered, sometimes unjustifiably, simply because malicious individuals, or even competitors, have chosen to publish an unverified review containing incorrect information. The comment may be insulting, inaccurate or completely fictitious, with the sole aim of damaging the reputation of the professional. For example, some restaurant owners have complained about customers they have never served, or about derogatory customers who, after being obnoxious throughout the service, did not hesitate to leave a particularly unpleasant message.
It is therefore essential to combat the malice of certain individuals. Fortunately, a company with a score of 4.7/5 or 4.8/5 is often perceived as more reliable and credible than one with a perfect score of 5/5, because customers know that it is virtually impossible to satisfy everyone.
A negative review has been posted on Google
Here is an example of a negative review left on Google: "I was very disappointed by the experience in this restaurant. They are thieves. Nothing on the plate. Avoid, flee!
While criticism should be accepted in a democratic society, the opinion must not be false or fanciful.
Consequently, if the professional has been able to gather all the evidence showing that it is the customer who has behaved very badly: bad payer, procrastination on the part of the customer, aggressiveness on the part of the customer, lack of understanding on the part of the customer, etc., the professional should not hesitate to take action against the customer.
1. Reply and ask Google to remove it (and keep your fingers crossed)?
First of all, you need to respond to the negative review with a detailed, reasoned reply. The reader of the review, a potential future customer, will also be interested in the explanations given by the professional.
You should then report the comment to Google, but only if it is justified.
However, comments that comply with Google rules cannot be deleted: reviews that are not appreciated by the company cannot be deleted. To do this, go to this page to make an appeal .
2. Send a registered letter of formal notice if you know the person?
In all cases, it is advisable to send a letter of formal notice, requesting the removal of the post, in an attempt to resolve the dispute amicably, particularly if you are assisted by a lawyer.
If it has not been possible to resolve the dispute amicably, the establishment concerned may take legal action.
Defamation or commercial disparagement in the case of false Google reviews?
Action for commercial disparagement
A disparagement action brought against a competitor whose aim is to disparage its competitor in order to divert its customers is designed to :
- take legal action, under penalty, to have the post removed,
- claim for damages
3. How do you recognise a defamatory review on Google?
Defamation action for false Google reviews
Defamation is "an allegation or imputation of a fact that is prejudicial to the honour and reputation of a person".
Public defamation is defamation that can be heard or read by a foreign audience.
When a defamatory or insulting notice is posted on Google, it becomes public.
The offence of defamation may therefore be applicable.
For public defamation to be upheld, the comments in question must have damaged the reputation and honour of the victim, who must be identifiable as a specific person.
If the notice is false and aggressive, and if the professional has proof of this, he or she can bring an action for defamation.
Please note that the limitation period is 3 months from the commission of the offence so the date on which the post was left on the google page.
4. What are the risks for users writing these reviews?
The drafting of defamatory notices is punishable when the offence is detected. Users can face fines of up to €12,000 for public defamation (which is the case on the internet).
Public insults are punishable by a fine of up to €45,000 and one year's imprisonment.
In practice, before the action is brought, the notice will have to be recorded by a Commissioner of Justice (formerly known as Commissaire de justice).
To sum up, following a post that is abusive, defamatory or constitutes commercial disparagement, the steps to be taken are as follows:
reply to the post on the google form to offer a polite reply, demonstrating your professionalism by proving that the comments are false and do not correspond to reality;
send a letter of formal notice asking the customer who left the message to remove it within 8 days of receipt of the letter,
Failing withdrawal, take the matter to court:
have the insulting post recorded by a bailiff,
take legal action to have the post removed under penalty,
seek damages which, where appropriate, will be paid to a charity, to demonstrate that the reason for your action is not to obtain a sum of money but to ensure that the injustice is righted.
Me Zakine's firm does not hesitate to fight against the malicious acts of certain clients and even on its own behalf when its exemplary and irreproachable professionalism is breached.
Don't hesitate to call on the services of Me Zakine when your reputation is at stake!