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Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

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# 1
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Hello, I am hoping to get some help with this here, after spending quite a bit of time chatting with and speaking on the phone with various google representatives, all of whom were either unwilling or unable to assist.  

 

I am an attorney and represent a business owner who has been the subject of several false and defamatory reviews on google.  The business is called Radiant Dermatology.  In mid-December, a disgruntled patient posted a completely fabricated story in the form of a google review.  Because it was a patient of the practice, the business owner had the contact information for the patient and contacted her to request that she remove the review.  She eventually agreed to remove the review, but almost immediately after she removed her fake review, two new ones popped up, this time by two separate individuals, neither of whom are patients of the practice, and both of whose reviews are completely fabricated and are clearly meant to injure the reputation of the practice and the physician.

 

So, to get to the point, there are, at present, two reviews on google that were posted by non-patients/non-customers, and are very clearly false and damaging to the reputation of the business and physician.  The reviews, one posted by a "Joanne Dreyden," and one by a "Timothy Schmidt," are from non-customers, were posted within a few minutes of one another, were effectively to replace a fake review by someone whose identity we had and whose contact information we knew, and are very clearly an attempt to defame both the practice and the physician while leaving the business no recourse.  All of the claims made in these reviews are false, and the events described therein false.  

 

We have flagged the reviews and both myself and business owner have contacted google on a number of occasions to attempt to have the reviews removed.  Last week, I chatted with a google representative who then indicated he needed to call me.  We spoke for about 10 minutes.  At the end of the conversation he indicated he would need to discuss the matter with a higher up at Google and would call me back in one or two days.  It has been 8 days and I have yet to receive a call back.  Tonight, the business owner called Google and was advised that the reviews were determined to be within Googles policy and would not be removed.  The business owner was told to reply to the reviews.

 

So, the reviews need to come down.  I would prefer not to have to file a lawsuit to effectuate that, but it seems the business has no recourse, and Google has not given this business owner the tools to satisfactorily deal with the problem.  Replying to made up patients is not something a business owner should be forced to do.  I realize that Google is not the arbiter of truth or falsity, opinion or fact, but given the particular set of circumstances, it is readily apparent that the reviews are simply an attempt by an upset customer to avoid personal liability while still impugning the reputation of the business and business owner.  

 

Sorry for the long post, but the details are relevant.  Any help would be appreciated.  

3 Expert replyverified_user
Marked as Best Answer.
Solution
Accepted by Manoj S (Google Employee)
May 2016

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Top Contributor
# 2
Top Contributor
Section 230 of the Communications Decent Act effectively shields Google (and all websites) from any repercussions of showing defamatory reviews at a Federal Level.

Thus they are following their own Review Terms of Service in determining whether to remove the review or not. Since there was no violation of their TOS, they will not do.

Your only recourse and its a long shot is to get the courts to help you ascertain the actual identity of the poster(s) and sue them directly to force them to take them down. It is a difficult and often non fruitful path.

Let us know how it goes.

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Top Contributor
# 3
Top Contributor
as a German I didn't know the CDA 230

Good to know
Thanks Mike
_________________________________________________________________________
Helmut Geissler, Google My Business Top Contributor   |  my G+ profile

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

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# 4
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Mike, I am aware of the Act and its consequences for sites that host statements made by third parties. Based on your response and my previous dealings with google on the issue, its become clear that I have no recourse other than to pursue legal remedy. While a suit asserting that google is liable for the damages caused by the fake reviews would be unsuccessful, as you point out, different types of cases and the enforcement of a court order requiring google to remove the reviews may yet be fruitful.

I have to say, while I understand the push and pull of free speech and google's role as a company, it really is a shame that google and its associates are more than willing to allow a vocal minority to post fake reviews and to have such devastating economic effects on small businesses. This message board is replete with examples of people that have been harmed by false reivews, and as I'm finding out, google and its associates are happy to assist those willing to do the harm by asserting that they are simply providing a forum without actually policing it. I'm sure this isn't news to anyone, but google's "don't be evil" thing has been out the window for quite some time now.

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 5
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File a suit against the poster, not Google. Even with flimsy evidence and low probability of winning, the cost of their legal fees would be incentive enough to quickly settle and to the removal of the reviews. >From my experience, in the past a simple letter from a lawyer was all that was required for the posters to remove the fake reviews from my business Google+ In instances (not related to Google) that our attorneys file suite for this or that reason, the other side quickly folded due to legal costs. Hope this helps... And hope Google finds a way to handle fake reviews. Understandably, it's a tough job, especially with the danger of removing real reviews. Though overall, Google does a better job than most in not being evil.

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Follower ✭ ✭ ☆
# 6
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Thanks Mark. We have already filed suit against the original poster, whose information we have and is actually a real person. The problem with the current two reviews is that they are fake, non-existent individuals, who are proxies for the original reviewer. As such, we cannot file suit against these individuals, since they literally do not exist (we have done our due diligence in establishing this, as my initial inclination was simply to add them as defendants to the already pending suit, as you have suggested). In any case, while I appreciate everyone's input. I won't be following up on this post any longer, as it has been made clear that I do not have any recourse short of involving the court, and I don't want to continue to discuss the intended or pending litigation in a public forum. I'm sure you all understand. Thanks again for everyone's comments.

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Visitor ✭ ✭ ✭
# 7
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Hello Ryan,

I am in Michigan and it looks like I am suffering the same problem. I am contemplating a libel suit against the posters however it seems reasonable that Google take down reviews where they cannot verify the existence of the person posting the review.

Google and its competitors make money by traffic and it seems that the only reason not to remove a defamatory claim against a business (where the claim is not a grade of quality for a service but an accusation of wrongdoing or any other factual claim) would be the same as the reason why it is said any press is good press. Whatever drives traffic stays no matter who it hurts.

If Google had nothing to gain it would not allow these reviews to stay up.

Those who manage at Google should remember that this is the kind of short term gain that results in the long term loss. Once the public realizes that it can abuse their site you will have competitors destroying the mom and pops of the world via erroneous reviews. This reckless and careless disregard for the well being of small business will help erode the hard work of many honest people who don't deserve this.

How hard would it be for me to walk in any restaurant and say there was something floating in my soup and post it on Google review section and have a few of my associates to do the same to drive a local business into the dumps which helps to keep my own restaurant afloat? This is a very bad way to use such power.

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Top Contributor
# 8
Top Contributor

What a nightmare for US businesses.

 

If anyone reading this post is a UK business, don't panic, we have are not bound by the same craziness. 

 

1) Flag the review

 

2) Contact business support and report the review: https://support.google.com/business/contactflow

 

3) Send notice to Google UK requesting removal of review or Full Name and Address of reviewer within 14 days ( solicitors letter is best )

 

10 out 10 times the review is removed.

 

In the UK Google is seen as the publisher and therefore liable for what is published on their property and visible in UK search results.

 


Tim Capper Google My Business Top Contributor (UK) and SEO consultant at Online Ownership

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

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# 9
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Following this thread nearly six months later it's sad to see that this issue hasn't changed. The laws regarding defamation in Australia are similar to those in the UK - ie the publisher can be also held liable for defamation. We have had a former employee, now competitor, post a negative review about it, however Google seem to think they are not responsible for it. We've asked the poster and Google to remove it, but they've refused. It's a pity we need to resort to legal action to get a result.

Re: Fake and Defamatory Reviews and Google won't remove them

Top Contributor
# 10
Top Contributor
Google is not going to remove it just because you ask. If your lawyer asks and can make a reasonable case that it violates Australian law, they will take it down.

Otherwise they will only take down if it violates their TOS.

It isn't good but it is what it is.
Experts in the Topic
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