There’s been a flurry of online campaigns lately to get certain organisations to act in a way that appeases social media. The one that got my particular attention as an entrepreneur is the one against Impala Car Rentals.
Word got out that Impala Car Rentals (ICR) rented our a car to individuals who proceeded to commit a crime. People then started a shame-them-review campaign on Twitter, Google and Facebook. The idea was to get ICR to name the person who hired the car by leaving very negative reviews on their online listings.
Well, first off, that would land the company in way more trouble than you and your followers can dish out. When you use a company’s products or services, there is usually a legally binding contract with a privacy clause.
This states that under no circumstances can a company disclose your personal details to the public without written consent from you. It doesn’t matter if you murder 500 people with their car Grand Theft Auto style, the company’s Terms of Service most likely addresses this. The Terms of Service is that long document you never read but always accept and sign.
Nothing is easy where lawyers and judges are involved
What a client proceeds to do with a product a company sold them is not really their fault. We wrote a while back about several teens who have committed suicide after being bullied on social media. The company in question, Facebook would never under any circumstances release the personal information of any of the bullies to the public. Only a court can subpoena a company to release that information.
When the court does command a company to release private information about one of its clients, that information is not released to the public. The police are called in and collect that information as part of evidence for the case in question. Any member of the police force or the company who leaks this information to the public is committing a punishable crime and can also be sued for personal damages by the accused person.
Getting the negative reviews removed
So you and your 24,000 followers have done your worst and reduced ICRs rating down to 1 star with your reviews. Great job. Well, not really. Depending on the impact of the reviews, a company can take several steps to mitigate the damage. The longer, and harder road involves one of:
- Logging in to Google My Business and flagging a review or reviews submitted from a particular location or during a particular period. You can flag any review that you think is fake or inappropriate.
This can take long, and sometimes Google may not respond. The next step you may take is:
- Log in to Google Small Businesses Support, and leave a request to be contacted by them within a few hours. The support team will ask you why you need reviews removed and if you have a whole lot of news articles like ICR does, this will not be very difficult to justify.
Nothing is more gangster than a lawyer
Are the operators of review websites liable for defamation posted by anonymous users? Yes can be. The moment you notify Google or Facebook about inappropriate reviews they are now liable to any legal steps you may take as a business. If the company chooses to ignore your request, they are as liable as the person who posted the review. A strongly worded letter from your expensive legal representatives can get almost any review pulled from any platform. Trust me, there is nothing more gangster than a lawyer’s letter. This leads us back to you and your followers.
You can get sued for leaving such reviews on a company’s listing
A defamation lawsuit is never an easy road. Choosing to take that route is usually done when you weigh the costs, potential of losing the case versus the damage you think your brand has received from an individual. In most cases, companies will file a lawsuit just to set an example. They may not win it, but trust me when I say you do not want to be going back and forth to courts for this.
These may be very uncharted territory for Zimbabwean courts, but with a good legal team, you can build a case. I am reminded of a lady who left a negative review about a housing contractor. The contractor went ahead and filed a $700,000 lawsuit of defamation against the woman and he won the case. But before the damages were paid out, the contractor decided to try and add insult to injury by also slandering the woman online. The woman counter-sued and the whole thing ended up a stalemate as ruled by the same court.
Whatever the case, Impala Car Rentals must take action against these reviews. They may not get the $700,000 they sue you for or sue all of you and your followers, but that one person they do get will become a good example that ICR is also gangster.