Online reviews are a critical bridge to customers for online sellers. And under that bridge lurk online trolls. So what do you do when trolls attack? According to Kevin R. Heaphy, an attorney with Ryley Carlock & Applewhite in the US, legal action should be your last resort.
Suing online trolls is expensive. Plus, the vast majority of online comments and reviews are protected as free speech. If someone doesn’t like your crochet monkeys, it’s their constitutionally protected right to express that. What kinds of trolling might not be protected?
- Posting false reviews or comments. (Proving falsity requires distinguishing between fact and opinion.)
- Conducting a smear campaign to harm a business or induce employees to quit.
- Posting employee reviews that disclose trade secrets or confidential information.
- Creating a website impersonating a company to attack the business.
With those troll-ish behaviours in mind, here are three tactics Kevin recommends you undertake before cutting him or another attorney a check.
- Report the Online Troll to the Platform
Your fist line of defence is to report the troll to the platform – Facebook, Yelp, Glassdoor, etc. Of course, there’s a catch. Each platform has its own unique terms of service and its own unique way of accepting abuse reports. Fortunately, over the last six months or so, platforms have become more helpful in removing reported content, probably due to regulatory pressure. That said, don’t expect immediate action. If you have a large HR department, they may well be versed in this and be able to help out.
Also, don’t expect much love from Google or other search engines. To combat online trolls who are ranking ahead of you in search results, you’ll likely need to invest in some SEO marketing.
- Reply to the Online Troll in His Forum
Often, an online troll just wants to be heard. By responding to the troll in the online forum, either publicly or privately, you may be able to address the falsity or steer the comments in your favour. On the other hand, you may just inflame the troll or invite other trolls to pile on. Be careful! Jay Baer refers to this approach as hugging your haters. He even wrote a whole book about it. Here are his tips for online complaints. You could also go the opposite direction and have fun with the troll.
The Wendy’s Twitter account is notorious for this approach and we’ve all seen sidewalk signs reading something like: “Try the coffee one Yelp reviewer said was the worst she’s ever tasted.”
- Send a Cease and Desist Letter
Want look legit on a limited budget? Well, you don’t have to hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter. In fact, you can find sample letters to mimic online. A cease and desist letter can often achieve your goal of having the content removed. However, it requires voluntary compliance by the online troll. And a particularly nasty troll can fire back by publishing the letter online to make you look like a whiny litigious asshole. So, again, be careful!
- Better Call Saul. It’s Time to File a Lawsuit
Kevin R. Heaphy, an attorney with Ryley Carlock & Applewhite in Arizona talks about his tactics to combat online trolls. If you’ve exhausted all other options and you still want to fight back against the online troll, it’s time to lawyer up and file a lawsuit. Spoiler alert: Lawsuits are expensive.
Further, it adds your beef to the public record and may draw even more attention to the troll’s comments before having them removed. So, think carefully. Are you sure you want to go through with legal action? Well, OK then. You better call Saul… or hit up Kevin on LinkedIn. He’d be happy to hear from you!