LAWLINK – Defamation concerns over website review

Q: About six months ago I bought some items from a small business in Limerick. The cost was fairly considerable and there were some problems. I left a fairly scathing review on a website, to which they replied. The review and the reply are all public. I was very firm but fair in the review and warned people away from doing business with them. Their reply was very rude, above and beyond. They are now threatening to sue for defamation. Is there anything I can do?

A:You are entitled to leave a review for any product or service that you avail of. However, those reviews would be governed firstly by the website on which they are published and secondly by the general law relating to defamation.

You should check with the website to see whether your review or the reply can be taken down. You should ensure that before taking this step that you take screenshots of the relevant posts and email them to your solicitor to prove what was said and when.

In general, defamation is the publication of a statement (be it orally, in print, or on a website) that is untrue and that would injure the reputation of a person or indeed a business. Clearly, therefore, if the statement that you made is fully factually correct, then the statement cannot be defamatory. Likewise, if the rebuttal made by the business is true, no defamation can arise either.

Of course, it is when opinions become involved that the issue can get murky. You might think that your review, and your recommendation to avoid the business, was fair and impartial, but the business may think differently.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

Generally speaking, if an opinion is honestly held to be true, this can be a good defence to a claim.

If proceedings have issued, a party can issue an ‘offer of amends’. This essentially amounts to an apology and withdrawal of remarks. Sometimes it can also include payment of a sum in damages, although on occasion it does not.

You should consult with your solicitor as a lot would depend on the exact circumstances of what actually occurred between you and the business, and the precise nature of the words used.