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Dealing with malicious online reviews

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Fake or misleading online reviews are a growing problem for small businesses

NSW Small Business Commissioner Chris Lamont says as more small businesses move online, misleading or fake reviews were an increasing frustration, but there were strategies to address them.

“While it’s great that customers can easily share their honest opinions about the services they receive, it also opens up businesses to the threat of malicious and deliberately misleading reviews,” Mr Lamont said.

“Anyone can leave a review for a business on Facebook or Google, whether or not they have even used the business, and they can hide their identity,” Mr Lamont said.

Correct the record

If a business receives such a review, one of the first steps the owner should take is to respond to it. If it is a blatantly false review, responding in a comprehensive and public way corrects the record.

The review might have been mistakenly directed, so it also provides an opportunity for the reviewer to remove or amend their review.

“It is important that this is done a professional and considered way,” Mr Lamont said.

“While it might be hard, do not get defensive, and don’t make it personal.  Remember your customers will be looking at your response.”

It is also an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive by demonstrating how seriously and professionally you take customer feedback and reviews.

Reporting a malicious review

You can report reviews to Google or Facebook if you think it does not abide by their policies, but there is no guarantee it will be removed and it may take the platforms some time to respond.

Other options

In Australia, businesses and review platforms that do not remove reviews that they know to be fake risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA).  According to the law, reviews may mislead consumers if they are presented as impartial, but were written by:

  • the reviewed business
  • a competitor
  • someone paid to write the review who has not used the product
  • someone who has used the product but written an inflated review to receive a financial or non-financial benefit.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can take a range of enforcement actions for misleading and anti-competitive conduct. The Competition and Consumer Act applies to conduct in Australia as well as conduct outside of Australia by corporations carrying on business in Australia.

In extreme circumstances, businesses which are the victims of ongoing harassment or serious threats through fake negative reviews may also consider contacting the police.

If you have approached a platform and they haven’t responded to your complaint, you can contact us and we will discuss the matter with you and can approach the platform on your behalf.

 

 

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