The popularity of blogs is staggering. As one court noted, this powerful form of communication gives anyone with a computer and Web access the ability to operate a printing press to reach the world. It’s become something of a free speech free-for-all. And, there can be legal consequences for those who choose to exercise these rights. In particular, a fury of defamation lawsuits has arisen from businesses who receive negative blog reviews about them by consumers. If you take to the Web to exercise your First Amendment speech rights, also appreciate the limits on those rights and what might follow from the business.
To start, understand what speech is not protected. The law does not allow you to defame any company, no matter how bad your experience might have been. Defamation, generally, is a statement of fact about a company or person that is false and that injures that company’s or person’s reputation. If you share a truthful account of the facts involved in your experience, and your opinion of the company based on those facts, your speech stands a good chance of being protected. The law absolutely protects your opinions but make sure you keep them as just that – don’t don’t exaggerate, don’t assume or imply that your experience must be the standard way that the company does business, don’t implicate individuals with whom you did not interact, and don’t imply that there are other underlying bad acts that you know but are not sharing. Following these tips might prevent a lawsuit; at the very least it will give a lawyer some ability to defend you. But don’t post a review lightly or as an angry reaction, without giving yourself time to calm down.
Also, just because you post anonymously, know that your identity likely will not remain hidden. Court systems allow for procedures whereby a company seeking to identify an anonymous or obscured blog poster can do so via subpoena. Read the terms of your ISP and the websites where you post your reviews; most provide that they will notify you if they receive a subpoena seeking to identify you and allow you the opportunity to appear in court and object. That objection will cost you money, but if you are serious about standing up for the right to speak anonymously, you might find it money well spent. Otherwise, if you post online reviews – anonymously or not, you must be willing to defend your comments, especially if they impact the business as you intend.
**Content is general legal information and is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult an attorney for guidance specific to your circumstances.
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