An article has been published by the Daily Telegraph that outlines a new action being taken by KwikChex on behalf of our members. The following contains more information and clarification:
Publication of Suspected Rogue Reviewers List - Actions & 'Amnesty' Announcement
This action, in common with all others taken or being taken by KwikChex, is concerned with provably false and malicious allegations being posted by anonymous people on websites that do not verify the identity of users or the truth of comments made, including whether the author was actually a genuine customer. Addressing this issue helps consumers distinguish fraud from honest, fair feedback, which should always be encouraged - and helps protect reputable businesses from unscrupulous, unfounded attacks.
KwikChex is adding a new resource for members so that they are better enabled to challenge specific comments posted on anonymous 'feedback sites' A list will be published on KwikChex.com and made available to the media, consumer protection agencies and the public, detailing information including the website on which the suspect 'reviews' are published, the user name and the date of publication.
The list, together with a notification to the owners of the website that published the comments will serve as formal notice of a request to immediately remove the post on the grounds that their comments are considered by the subject business to be deceptive, false and damaging to the reputation of the business. The website owners will be asked to forward the notification on to the poster, using the contact details they have on their database.
Steps necessary by the poster to avoid further action.
Should the post be removed within 14 days of notification, no further action will be taken.
If the poster provides evidence that there is a basis of truth in the comments made (most importantly that they can verify that they were customers as claimed), action will be withheld, pending enquiries.
If a poster can substantiate that they have requested removal of their comments, and that this has not been carried out or the request has been refused by the website owners, no further action will be taken against the poster . In these cases, the website business will be presumed to have taken full responsibility for the continued publication of the posts.
If none of the three steps above are taken, then legal action may be taken against the poster. This will commence with a court application for disclosure of all information held by the website publisher regarding the identity of the poster, in order for the business (now the plaintiff) to be able to repair the damage done to their reputation.
What type of post will be subject to these actions?
Typically, those that courts will confirm as having substance under tests for causing genuine financial damage to a business (i.e., by the seriousness of allegations or intention to stop or hinder the business obtaining custom and for which there is evidence that the comments made are false and intended to damage the business.
Will privacy rights protect the posters wish to remain anonymous?
As has been demonstrated in may thousands of recent cases, court orders will supersede any privacy agreements between poster and website owners. Feedback websites nearly all refer to this liability in their terms and conditions and specifically state that on production of a court order, they will release all information they have on record, including many aspects such as IP addresses that will enable identification of the poster.
What further legal actions might be taken once a poster is identified?
The precise nature of further actions will vary according to the nature of the case and local jurisdiction. In addition to defamation, which in most countries is a civil action, there may also be prosecutions under Consumer Protection laws by the authorities, or under 'tortious interference' - theses are typically applicable if the poster is a competitor of the business they have disparaged.
Are online posts not protected under 'freedom of speech rights'?
Honest opinion and fair comment are quite rightly protected in most countries. These actions are not applicable to people providing honest feedback about their experiences as a customer of a business. The right to defend reputation is also contained in most constitutions and is fully applicable to internet based defamation.
How can feedback websites refuse to remove comments when requested to by the poster?
Many feedback sites, including some of the largest and best known include in their terms and conditions clauses which hand the property rights of comments made on their sites to the website owners. Poster will therefore often not have a legal right to have their comments deleted, which can create greater exposure to litigation and prosecution to the poster.
Is this an attempt by business owners to suppress justifiable criticism?
No - in the first instance a business owner using this resource must have evidence that they are being falsely accused and damaged. Secondly. posters have the opportunity to validate and verify their comments. And finally, KwikChex members are encouraged to build their positive online profile by transparency, including the use of authenticated customer reviews
Why are theses actions being taken?
To enable reputable businesses to more adequately defend themselves against false and malicious online allegations.
To help identify rogue posters that seek to deceive consumers and to use the internet to damage businesses and / or to gain an unfair competitive advantage.
To provide a fast, fair and practical means for people that have posted false comments to understand the possible consequences and to rectify the situation and avoid legal costs, fines and bad publicity.
To highlight the ethics and practicalities of the current situation, which without such actions makes it extremely difficult and expensive for a business to defend their reputation effectively and thus avoid potentially ruinous damage.
To further test (in several countries) the question of when a website becomes liable for content it is publishing - i.e., in circumstances where they have been asked to remove posts by the original author and have declined to do so and continue to publish, citing their ownership of the contested comments.
KwikChex members will be invited to submit suspected rogue online comments that meet the criteria for inclusion and a press release will be made when the list is first published and notifications made to the websites concerned. Additions will be made to the list at anytime thereafter and details removed from the list when the posts are removed from the feedback websites.
We believe that it will be published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper tomorrow, Saturday, 23rd October.