Stokes O'Brien

Business Defamation Lawsuits for Online Customer Reviews

Posted in Business and Real Estate Litigation on October 31, 2015

Especially in the internet age, San Diego businesses are more considering a defamation lawsuit, especially for customer commentary online.  Visa versa, consumers are getting threatened with defamation lawsuits for online postings.

Defamation is any false statement, which has a tendency to injure the business.  Generally, in order to win a defamation case, the business must show:

(1) the statement was made;

(2) people knew it was about the business;

(3) the statement was defamatory;

(4) the statement was false; and

(5) the speaker did not use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity.


However (and this is a BIG “however”), if the statement was online, there are large hurdles:

California Courts recognize the internet culture.  Courts recognize that internet users know the culture encourages playing fast and loose with facts.  The Courts know most internet posters remain anonymous, or pseudonymous, is a cue to discount their statements.  Further, California law acknowledges that people on the internet expect to see strongly worded opinions rather than objective statements of fact (i.e., a complete defense to defamation).  This is especially true as internet speech is full of hyperbole, invective, short-handed phrases, and language not found in fact-based documents.

Moreover, California recognizes that internet reviews are full of free-flowing diatribes and rants, without proper spelling or grammar (including unsophisticated, colorful opinion) are not statements of fact sufficient to constitute defamation.  Our courts know that readers don’t expect statements of fact on Yelp, like in a newspaper, etc.

So, it’s hard to maintain a successful defamation case for an online review, but it can be done.