It's a well-known phenomenon that the Internet is the place people go to say nasty (even dirty, even totally unfounded) things they'd never say in a real-world environment. So if a waiter in a restaurant asks a patron if everything is OK, the guest might be inclined to bashfully demure — then go home and raise holy hell on Yelp or TripAdvisor.
In many cases, management takes those reviews incredibly seriously; some even reportedly bribe TripAdvisor to take down negative reviews (check out the case of this disaster wedding, for example).
And consider this latest news-making example of an online review escalating: Sarah Gardner left the review for the High Rocks restaurant in Tunbridge Wells, England. Later, she was was shocked to get a letter in the mail saying she was being sued for her words.
Her review stated that the food was "mediocre at best" and the staff was "rude." Uh, that's pretty mild as these things go — and hardly seems to constitute trolling.
But the 11-page letter stated, “The material you have posted about our client on TripAdvisor.com is defamatory and therefore unlawful." The legalese went on to say that the review caused "financial harm worth tens of thousands" in income equivalent. So, the legal team was was going after her for, "aggravated damages to compensate it for the full extent of its financial losses."
The patron told news channels she was an absolute wreck, saying she doesn't have the money for a lawyer to go to court and would have to represent herself. She says she stands by her comments and thinks the restaurant team should have been professional and just replied to the individual review, as is the site's encouraged protocol.
On the flip side, the restaurant claims the date she claimed she visited was erroneous; she was not there at that time, according to CCTV footage. In response, she claims she just chose a random date when she made the review, and indeed has receipts as well as images of her family eating there to prove her claim.
This is not even the first time High Rocks has done this. When Felicity Gallagher wrote that her spaghetti was "slop," the manager reviewed security footage and saw her "enjoying it." And yes — he also sent a letter threatening a lawsuit. James Batup has also come forward to say he was told to edit or remove a review he wrote, or he would also have to go to court to "prove" this review claim that the venue was "an unfit venue for a wedding."
The venue in question isn't the isn't the only one to get involved in such intense response to reviews: TripAdvisor has been slammed in the past for allegedly taking bribes to remove bad posts, and reports claim venues bully customers into removing bad ones.
Nervous yet? If you're worried about the bad reviews you've left in the past — no need to erase them. Cosmopolitan reached out to Steve Kuncewicz, principal lawyer at Slater and Gordon, to see what our rights are — and he said it's nearly impossible for a business to win in court. For one, the burden is on the business to prove libel that caused actual financial losses. Beyond that, a review is typically a person simply sharing an opinion. He says, in the future, just be sure to form your review as an "opinion, not fact" as a means of covering your tush — just in case things get nasty.
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