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Can a business sue those leaving negative reviews?

Online reviews allow patrons of a particular business to leave their unvarnished opinion regarding goods and services for all the world to read. However, do Colorado business owners have the right to sue reviewers if they feel that negative reviews unfairly characterize their business? According to CBS Moneywatch, this subject is still being hotly debated.

While the First Amendment affords all Americans the right to freely express their opinion, some business owners have been actively challenging the notion that bad reviews of a business fall under these protections.  Less-than-desirable reviews of a Virginia-based contractor led to an internet defamation suit when an unhappy customer complained about work performed in her home. Another company sought to keep negative reviews under wraps by citing a hidden non-disparagement clause in agreements signed by now-dissatisfied customers.

While defamation typically points to false claims that ultimately hurt one’s reputation, non-disparagement is a murkier subject. Non-disparagement clauses are typically concerned with any type of criticism, even if it is valid and truthful. Although in the above case a host of misdeeds ultimately led to this company’s claim being disregarded, more and more businesses are using tactics like these to prevent disgruntled customers from making themselves heard.

In addition to possibly filing a lawsuit, there are also some other things a business can do to counter negative reviews. Entrepreneur recommends taking a diplomatic approach. When offering a response to negative feedback, business spokespersons are urged to remain professional and civil no matter what. An angry or aggressive tone will serve to only anger dissatisfied customers even further, and these interactions may turn off those new to a business. In most cases, it’s best to conduct responses in the same manner one would offer face-to-face customers service. 

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