The dangers of writing online reviews - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

The dangers of writing online reviews

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - If you’re buying a product or looking for a restaurant or hotel, checking online reviews might be your first step. But when you're the one writing reviews watch out. You could be sued for what you say.

"People recognize that they have that free speech right, but they don't recognize the responsibilities that go along with it," said Traci Griffith, a St. Michael's College professor and legal expert.

A recent case made national headlines. An Internet router company threatened to sue a Florida man who wrote a negative product review on Amazon.com.

He claimed the tech company Mediabridge was paying people to write positive reviews of their products online. He also claimed the router he purchased was inferior and made from cheap parts.

Mediabridge claimed the man's review was libelous or intended to damage the reputation of the company.

Griffith says the company has every right to sue as long as it can prove the statement was false. She says there's a big difference between opinion and fact.

"Opinions cannot be proven true or false. The question is, if it is a false statement that injures the person's reputation or in this case the company's reputation, that's where the lawsuits come in," said Griffith.

Experts say consumers may not realize their rights when posting online. Take Amazon's terms and conditions section. It says you are allowed to post whatever you want so long as the content is not defamatory or otherwise injurious to third parties.

"When you check that box, you say that you will abide by those conditions. Now if you haven't read what those conditions are, you are in trouble," said Griffith.

And you can almost rate any company or product online like Burlington Subaru does. The dealership uses a third party website called DealerRater.com, which is similar to Amazon.

Reporter Shelby Cashman: Do you think it's important though to welcome good and bad reviews?

Steve Kelson from Burlington Subaru: Yeah, absolutely. That's where most of the people are going, whether they are buying a car or going out to dinner to get a hotel, they are going to check reviews to see the experience people have had so we think they are super valuable.

Kelson says he doesn't think he would ever resort to a law suit even if someone posts negative reviews.

"I think there would be an alternative to fix it without suing somebody," said Kelson.

Mediabridge disagreed. The Florida case is still playing out.

"There is an element of chilling. Meaning people are reluctant to speak out, but if you know what your rights are in terms of the terms and conditions, you can speak out in a way that you are still protected," said Griffith.

This particular case is still ongoing, but there have been other cases and the outcomes have been mixed. Some negative reviews were found at fault, but some were allowed to stand. 
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