Article by Attorney Caroline Fox 

Small businesses everywhere know that bad reviews can kill your company.  And in the wedding industry, where everything has to be picture perfect, bad reviews can seem like the end of the world.  And for some wedding pros, it can be.  

Take the recent highly-publicized case where photographer Andrea Polito was slandered and defamed so badly that she was awarded $1M against the couple that defamed her.   [LINK: https://petapixel.com/2017/08/01/wedding-photographer-wins-1-08m-defamation-suit-couple/ ]

But while this may seem like a “win,” a closer read reveals that this case doesn’t really clear much up when it comes to bad reviews.

The issue is that reviews considered free speech, and expressing an opinion receives almost absolute protection under the United States Constitution.  We start to run into some gray area when we bump into defamation, which is “the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person [or] business.”  You may also recognize its two sub-categories, slander (spoken) and libel (written).  In the United States, a comprehensive overview of what is and is not libel or slander is quite difficult, because the definition differs from state to state as well as federally.

What’s a wedding pro to do when you get a vindictive review?  Wedding review sites like TheKnot.com have a formal review process: “If a wedding pro receives a review that contains false or inaccurate information, he or she should collect all the proper documentation and submit a formal dispute with our reviews team through The Knot Pro via [email protected]. With the documentation collected, we will work with both the reviewer and the wedding pro to reach a resolution regarding the review. Wedding pros might also want to leave a response beneath the negative review. You don’t have to be an advertiser to do so.”

Documentation isn’t required for every negative review posted on WeddingWire. However, every vendor on the site has the ability to dispute a review, which initiates a verification process that includes WeddingWire requesting documentation that proves a reviewer did hire the vendor they reviewed. WeddingWire does not determine the truthfulness of statements expressed in a review. The sole purpose of the dispute process is to ensure that reviews on WeddingWire abide by their Terms of Use.  You can get more information on reviews on WeddingWire’s  FAQ resource page that addresses some additional common questions related to this topic.

See photographer Andrea Polito’s thoughts on reviews sites during her interview on Wedding Market Live

 

See the whole interview here: https://youtu.be/eZNnCFSgMUI

 

Andrea shares that you need to have a plan in place so if something like this happens you are ready for it. She feels that the burden of proof shouldn’t be with the business owner to make sure the reviews are truthful.  She shares how easy it is for anyone to use proxy servers to create glowing reviews or submit several bad reviews and hide their IP address. There are thousands of proxy servers sites like www.startpage.com that can hide an IP address.   Reviews from a hidden IP address should never be posted at all.  How will the review sites combat this problem?  On The Knot a reviewer must sign up using a valid email address. If The Knot discovers that the email address is invalid, the reviewer would be in violation of their terms of use and the review would be removed.”

The answers here are vague, but at least provides wedding pros with an avenue for redress in the instance of nasty, untrue reviews.  However, true reviews from unhappy or “difficult” clients will most likely stick around, even if unfounded.  The best way to handle these?  A good offense.  Make sure you’re vetting your clients and setting up clear expectations for your relationship.  Be clear about exactly what they’re signing up for, and what is required of them.  And if worst comes to worst, don’t be afraid to contact your attorney.  Sometimes, the threat of legal action can make people drop the dramatics and start acting like adults again.

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