The Communications Decency Act is a boon for Ripoff Report when it comes to avoiding defamation lawsuits. The CDA shields websites such as this one from liability over third-party content posted on their domain. However, Ripoff Report can’t edit the content in any way.
They use this excuse to declare immunity from any defamatory statements made in the reviews they host. However, Ripoff Report also claims that they can refuse to take down complaints because they own the content. Ripoff Report refuses to remove reviews even if they know the complaint was falsified or the consumer requests removal.
They feel the removing Ripoff Reports would allow corporations to censor negative reviews by forcing unhappy customers to delete them. Although they claim to act on behalf of the little guy, the policy can be just as much of a headache for consumers.
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In general, lawsuits aren’t a good look for businesses of any size. But you can seek legal counsel and sue Ripoff Report in a last-ditch effort to save your company name. Sadly, Ripoff Report lawsuits tend to have low success rates because the company hides behind the Communications Decency Act and free speech rights. If you choose to sue, expect to spend an exorbitant amount of money (think: thousands of dollars). Further, the case likely won’t turn out in your favor due to the general legal immunity Ripoff Report enjoys.
Sue the original author
This option is precarious for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s nearly impossible to track down the original author. Even if do, you must be armed with solid evidence that proves the inaccuracy of the report and the credible threat it poses to your business. Therefore, if the complaint against you is valid, this won’t be a viable option for you.
If you manage to win your case, you could unintentionally create more negative online content through your litigation. It’s also unlikely that the author is able to pay you any amount of financial compensation. Even after all this trouble, Ripoff Report still won’t remove the review in question.
The best outcome you can hope for in this situation is that Google will remove your negative review from its search results. To do so, you’ll have to present a court order specifically proving the false and defamatory nature of the report to Google. However, it’s not easy to obtain a court order. But if you can afford to jump through the legal hoops to acquire one, Google should de-index your Ripoff Report.
It’s important to note that while legal action can remove the search result from Google, the complaint will remain on the Ripoff Report website. This means individuals can still find the review if they search for your business on ripoffreport.com. Also, if you want your report removed from the search indexes of other search engines, you’ll have go through the whole process again.
The legal process is messy, unpredictable, time-consuming, and expensive. But if you’re willing to pay up the money and potentially weather some bad press, this could save your business from permanent damage.
Get Google To Delist The Report From Its Index
There is a far lesser-known option that I have found that works wonders (which is probably why Ripoff Report makes no mention of it on their site). You may not be able to get the damning listing removed from Ripoff Report, but in my experience, you can get it removed from Google, which is almost just as good.
Here’s what you need to do, in three steps:
First, file a lawsuit against the original author of the report for defamation, business disparagement, false light, or any other claim that is legally appropriate. The big point here is that you have to prove your case in a court of law — you have the burden to prove the report made about you is false.
Be honest with yourself here (otherwise, you’re just wasting time and money). If the report about you is true (or if you can’t prove your case), you do not have a valid claim for defamation, and this option will not work for you. Again, the key here is being able to prove your case in a court of law. If you can’t do that, game over. You’re stuck with one of the other options above.
Also, you should only sue the author of the report—do not sue Google. Your lawsuit will cost a fortune (Google has plenty of good lawyers), fail very quickly, and you will only serve to anger the one company that can help you the most.
Second, obtain a court order declaring the offending report to be false and defamatory (this of course assumes you win your case). The specific content of this order can take various forms, but you should make sure to seek an order that refers to the offending report specifically.
Third, present the court order to Google.
How much will this option cost? Google has never charged me so far, so all you are faced with are the litigation costs. That includes a few hundred dollars in filing fees and service of process fees, and attorneys’ fees which can run the gamut.
But in my experience, often defamatory statements on Ripoff Report are so blatantly false that defendants know they cannot defend them in a court of law. Once you pull the litigation trigger with a strong defamation case, defendants will usually agree very quickly to a court declaration that the offending report is false and defamatory.
Note, this strategy is not limited to defamatory postings on the Ripoff Report. Google has honored court orders pertaining to content on other websites (such as Complaints Board, Pissed Consumer, and Scam.com) and removed those webpages from its search index.
Also note that this method works on a search engine by search engine basis. Just because Google delisted the offending report doesn’t mean that another search engine (for example, Bing.com) will. Though given how much of the market share Google has, getting the report delisted there will certainly be a huge step in the right direction.
While I’ve not had first-hand experience in doing so, it stands to reason that you could probably pursue this same method with Bing or any other search engine that displays court-declared unlawful webpages as search results.
Why Do I Need A Court Order?
While I can’t speak for Google, in my experience, Google will not remove defamatory webpages from its search index without a court order.
If you put yourself in Google’s shoes, requiring a court order makes sense.
Like any search engine, Google wants to be neutral with respect to the content it displays in its search results. Users trust Google will display the most relevant search results every time. Google does not want to violate that trust by adjusting its search results based on unverified defamation claims that can be easily fabricated.
Court orders, however, change the game.
If you want to be neutral, you can’t just say “anything goes”—that’s socially irresponsible. Rather, you have to respect the role of society’s proper arbiters of legal disputes—judges and juries. While our judicial system is not perfect, it is the best system we have, and it has safeguards to protect the rights of all parties. By honoring court orders, Google exercises responsible neutrality.
Of course, the best medicine is always prevention. Try to avoid ever getting listed on sites like Ripoff Report (there are several similar sites too). Conduct business in a way that even when there are disputes, the parties don’t have to resort to this sort of guerrilla cyber-warfare. Mudslinging on the Internet is a two-way street and is very hard to undo or contain once it’s out there.
If you do find yourself going down this path with an opposing party, swallow your pride, bite your lip—do whatever it takes to keep them from making additional postings (this sort of thing can snowball quickly since it’s so easy to retaliate). And that just plays right into the business model of companies like Ripoff Report who charge you to let you clean up the mess.
So take the high road when you can. But if you do find yourself the victim of damaging reports on Ripoff Report or similar complaint sites, at least you now have an option to stem the damage. It’s not perfect, but when successful, it’s a lot better than most of your other options.