It looks like business owners can now sue their way out of a bad online review — or at least, they can try. Two lawyers based in California have been accused of filing “brilliant but rather unethical” lawsuits as part of a cunning scheme designed to erase negative comments about their clients from Google.
The Consumer Opinion Group has brought a case against the two lawyers, for filing suits against defendants for writing defamatory reviews. But here’s the twist; the defendants in these cases are all stooges! The real authors are never contacted. The claimants promptly settle, and then the case is used as leverage by the legal team to persuade search engines to exclude the offending reviews from search results.
“The scam is not all that complicated,” says Marc Randazza, an attorney with Consumer Opinion. And according to Public Citizen, at least 25 of these sham lawsuits have been filed in California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Texas.
But why would anyone go to such trouble? Because search engines are ostensibly open and democratic, and therefore simply saying a bad review is defamatory isn’t enough to get it taken down or deindexed. However, tech companies are far more likely to heed the decision of a court.
“The questionable nature of many such injunctions is reason to further insist that platforms not be legally bound by them,” write Paul Alan Levy and Eugene Volokh.
Levy and Volokh speculate that the business owners affected by these bad reviews sought the help of a reputation management company, and that was where the shady practices began.
Needless to say, manipulating the legal system and lying to Google are not the most effective or sustainable ways to retain loyalty or brand love!