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The law does not subscribe to likes and retweets

Woman on social media

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.


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11 thoughts on “The law does not subscribe to likes and retweets

  1. Seek the input of legal practitioners (or practitioners of whatever domain you are writing about), before you publish incorrect information. A lot of assumptions have been made, in this article, where facts could easily be established. Does Impala have a Terms of Service? If so, what does it state? If not, what are the default rights covering the customer and Impala?

    The article then concludes in advising Impala to sue its reviewers, without any given legal basis besides just fixing/inconveniencing a reviewer and be *gangster*. Even if the reviewer was wrong, would suing them prevent future *causative* incidences of from occurring? Fear and forceful grandstanding will never win you over clientele. It could actually provoke a further backlash, countering the objective proposed. It is terrible advice!

    Sound, value-adding, advice would be to concentrate their energies on improving their customer vetting process and rebuild whatever damage has happened to their image. Even issuing an official statement outlining their position and collaboration with police, if a crime was indeed committed using their vehicle(s).

  2. Zero assumptions have been made and legal advice was sought from both local and international lawyers as both local and international law applies.

    Does Impala have a ToS? Yes.

    What does the ToS state? With relevance to this it states:
    – they don’t make you write down where you’re taking the car
    – they don’t make you write down what you’ll be using the car for
    – they don’t reveal any of your personal identity information to the public.
    Among a lot more. You can easily get the entire ToS.

    I’m not sure what more legal basis you think is needed beyond brand targetting as is happening right now. As stated, filing defamation suits is a complex procedure.

    By Customer vetting are you implying that private companies send special teams with espionage training to look into your life before they sell anything to you? Because this could apply to companies that sell knives, shoes, Facebook, Econet, even schools.
    Should Econet do an investigation into you before selling you a sim card that you may use to participate in a robbery or buy stolen goods?
    Should a private school get a psychiatrist to do a full evaluation on you before enrolling you, may you’ll grow up to become a criminal?

    The company has issued several statements already.

    This kind of boycott sets a far reaching precedent. It means that every time a company’s product is used in an illegal way, we must boycott them. This applies to Econet, Facebook, DSTV, Supermarkets, gyms, banks. Any business becomes fair game.

    1. Lol!! So, you basically just walk in, sign their contract and pay, then they will give you a car with absolutely no idea what you are using it for. You can take it to go plough a field and they will be none the wiser. I know where I’m going to be hiring from this summer crop season. 🤣 In this age of technology they cannot even track their vehicles??

      Anyway, if the client breaches the TOS with regards to acceptable usage (assuming there is such a clause), Impala may not required uphold their end of the agreement as the client breached it first.

      It is ludicrous to equate buying a knife/shoe (or sending someone to school) to renting out any sort of property including cars.

      First, and foremost, in *ANY* rental business you want to protect your property from abuse, hence the vetting. The knife or shoe belong to the customer after the transaction is done, so the retailer doesn’t care much for them. The car belongs to Impala and remains so post transaction. Do they not want to ensure the safety and safe usage of their own golden geese? If not, they might be in the wrong business. If so, they vet to reduce the likelihood that their vehicles are abused and even returned in the first place.

      Secondly, as the owner of the property, you want to be able to prove that you were not a participant in any criminal activity that may or may have not taken place. Failing to prove, beyond all possible doubt, that a third party is responsible may result in the blame being laid at your doorstep. It is no different to someone committing a hit and run in your vehicle. If you fail prove that someone else was driving (be it by you willing giving them your car or them having stolen it), you easily could find yourself taking the fall. In business, this is called being *accountable*.

      Finally, some of these are also just baseline KYC requirements that easily can be fulfilled such as asking for ID and proof of residence. Surely, why would an espionage team be required? It is utter foolishness to even suggest in the business realm.

      Mind you, each potential customer is free to act in their own way. If a person wants to boycott your services, it is entirely up to them. If another wants to use your services supposing you were a known shady operator, it is also entirely up to them. But, if a person has decided to boycott your services, what is more likely to result in them lifting their boycott? a) Suing or trolling reviewers on the internet b) Improving what you can about the causative business processes. Honestly, it is really a no-brainer…

  3. Hold on. I can tell them I am taking the car to a funeral in Buhera. They are not going to actively monitor if I actually drove to Buhera or not. Even if they do monitor and ask me, I can tell them I ended up not going to Buhera for whatever reason I can cook up. So asking why you want to rent a car is pointless.
    This same logic applies to a person learning Chemistry. I can tell them I want to become a Chemical specialist at Datlabs, then I graduate and start making chemical weapons for terrorists. If all organisations tried to do this vetting and tracking the way you want them to, the world would come to a standstill.

    With regards to if the client breaches a ToS, are you also allowed to breach the Tos? I gave a clear example of a case that occurred with the housing contractor and the $700,000 lawsuit.
    This is not the Wild Wild West, we have laws that protect the rights of both criminals and victims.
    Another simple example is when I loan you money and you don’t pay me back. Unless we engaged in a signed contract that states collateral, I can’t drive to your house and carry your fridge as payback. Thats a crime and you get arrested for it.

    Lastly like we already said, giving you my ID, address and phone number before you sell me a knife does not mean I am not going to use that tool to commit an armed robbery.

    On the act of boycotting; you can boycott a business and start social media campaigns to do so. But trying to harm a business’ reputation by leaving negative reviews, worse for a product that you didn’t even use; that’s an easy way to get sued. Even worse, trying to boycott a business because it refused to break a contract.

    Thousands of children around the world commit suicide over online bullying. No one will ever get Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter or whoever to publicly disclose the identity of the criminal to the public.

    1. Ever heard of GPS tracking and geo-fencing? But, conveniently TechZims technical knowledge on those has been thrown out to attempt to try make a point.

      The same logic does not apply to learning chemistry. Assuming you did chemistry, can you make a chemical weapon with the knowledge you acquired? I did chemistry and I can’t… Neither does the institute of learning, that taught me, own my knowledge if used criminally. In this case, Impala owns the car allegedly used in a crime. And, trust me, if you teach a course called Bomb Making or Chemical Weaponry 101, you will be arrested, even when none of your students have committed a crime.

      Depending on the wording of the contract, once a client breaches it, the other party may not be required to uphold their end of the contract. It is called breach for a reason. Otherwise, what is the purpose of having a contract to begin with, if one party must stick to it whilst the other ignores their obligations.

      If you were renting out knives, you would have serial numbers on those knives, dates they were rented out, to whom (with proof such as ID) and a TOS to define “acceptable usage”. It is that simple, no in-depth explanation is required to see the risks in a knife leasing venture. That due diligence will not prevent your knives from being used in a crime, but will quickly absolve you of wrong-doing if the event it does get used in one. You will be able to *ACCOUNT* for where it was and who had without a shroud of doubt. Otherwise, some will think you (or someone you are protecting) used the knife, which is possible, as you had unrestricted access to it.

      There is no obligation, legal or otherwise, that requires anyone that reviews your product/services to have used them before. As I stated before, you cannot control what a person boycotts and suing people will not alleviate any boycotting in effect. How one sees logic in that, is a mystery to me.

      Check how the business of the owner of the flight school, that taught some of the 9/11 pilots, is doing. There were no tweets involved at all…

      Anyway, some of these ideologies belong in a dictators handbook, “Oh, people said something that I don’t like. Well, lets find one of them and bash them real good for everyone to see. A good bashing display will make ’em stop.” Meanwhile, the root causes persist.

    1. Geofencing, as a preventative measure and route tracking as forensic measure… One is less likely to commit a crime when their activity is being tracked. 🤦‍♂️ It is shocking one has to explain this!

      1. I am not getting you clearly. Does knowing where a rented car is prevent the person who rented it from using it in a crime?

        Say for example I just rented a car. Say the car I rented from ICR has GPS and GeoFencing with auto-shutdown if I leave a specific area.
        Now, how does ICR prevent me from driving to town, robbing a bank, driving the car back to them and getting a Zupco back to my house?

        Should the car have advanced AI that predicts if its being driven during a crime?
        Is it a car or we’re now talking about Optimus Prime?

        1. As a preventative measure:
          If you rent a car on the pretext that you are going to a funeral in Buhera and the vehicle is geo-fenced to the possible routes there, when you attempt to go to Chinhoyi instead (to rob some target out there) you won’t be able to. Obviously, if you stick to your intended destination, you can rob anyone en-route to Buhera and that’s where the forensic measure applies.

          As a forensic measure (post-criminal activity):
          Even if geo-fencing is not active, a red flag will be raised with respect to where you are (Chinhoyi) versus where you said you were going (Buhera). This suspicious activity may alert the rental company to be wary of any incidences involving vehicles of that type in the area you visited.

          And, in the event that an incident occurred (even if you had not given your route/destination), your exact path can be traced including times and locations. This can contribute immensely to evidence required to prosecute you. GPS will show the vehicle outside the bank at the time of your great bank robbery, including picking up or dropping off any other accomplices along the way.

          Generally, once a person knows that their activity can be tracked, they are deterred from participating in any criminal activity on the basis that those monitoring their activity could have a hand in them being caught/convicted.

          Would be criminals thus shun hiring tracked/fenced vehicles, instead, they would choose to hire a car from a place that asks minimal questions, doesn’t ask for ID and doesn’t track their cars like Decepticons Car Rental (a fictional Transformers car rental)…

  4. The article ignores one important detail (I may have missed it), the weight of the judgment of a court of public opinion is more deadly than that of a court of justice. The article, in so far as it seeks to provide possible avenues for Impala to get out of this mess, does a lot of disservice to them. I pray they dont read this and use it as a template of how to deal with this mess. This reminds me of the Dendairy case. A fine balance is required, accept the anger of the people, seek to appease them by good PR. The attempt at addressing this so far has been absolutely horrendous. Sure, Impala may have their day in court and take all reviewers to the cleaners, but that wont restore their good name. A google search will always tie them to the murderous regime. In times like this its not the legal knowhow that carries the day but sympathy, empathy to those rightly aggrieved by what happened to Tawanda.

    1. By empathy what are we saying? Should they leak out the info to the public?

      Granted Zimbabwe has few of these cases and they are far between; but is this how every company’s product used in a crime should be handled? Via social justice?

      If our economy grows, then all companies would be at the mercy of the public. A world like that is not a world anyone would invest a brand in.
      If we can look past our anger and mob psychology, we will come to see that the way the public is handling this is inappropriate and should not be condoned.

      We are not saying Tawand was not wronged or that justice for him should be forgone. No!
      What we are asking is this: do we burn down the house because we have rats in the kitchen.

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