A company just won $90,000 in court against someone who left ridiculous and untrue Google and Yelp reviews about the business. This should make people who try to tear down businesses with untrue statements online worried.
It’s time for people to stop accusing anyone they don’t like of being a fraudster and a con artist. These are words loaded with legal meaning. If you want to know what makes someone a fraud, you can read about it on the justice website. If someone doesn’t meet those elements, they are not a fraud.
I love reading news of people or companies getting large court awards because I have been bullied online more than most. I run a lawyer directory that allows the public to leave reviews for lawyers. Sometimes when a lawyer gets a bad review from a client on our platform, they take it out on us, or more specifically, on me. Below is an example.
Why do people want to stop Clearway Law?
This Reddit posting came from the marketing manager of a law firm in Toronto. He contacted me and demanded I took down the profiles of all the lawyers at his firm. He said only he could control the online reputation of his lawyers. He also posted that I was a molester on Google Maps, which was later removed by Google.
But things got weirder from there. Suddenly people were messaging me, telling me that someone was sending them direct messages, saying that they should help stop my lawyer rating website.
A few of the lawyers who got bad reviews on Clearway now leave posts all over the internet, which say things like “someone needs to stop Clearway Law.” It’s unbelievable, but one lawyer even took out an advertisement on a subtitle website. So now when people download subtitles on websites like 123movies, they see the advertisement below. You can see the ad goes on to say that the public shouldn’t leave reviews for lawyers.
Spending money on online bullying
The fact that someone would actually spend hundreds or thousands of dollars targeting mass groups of people is beyond me. My guess is that they were invested in Clearway’s suffering, and knew that spending maybe $2000 was cheaper (and much faster) than filing a lawsuit. They got instant revenge.
Their advertisements have been successful. Once they started the advertisements, the Google searches for my company went from 1000 people a month to 35,000.
While I was writing this article, “Jackthemov,” the same person who was posting the Reddit posts and emailing us weekly, reuploaded a review that Google has removed three times for being false.
Clearway Law Controversy
This person also hired some kind of company that runs Reddit bots, and will automatically message people in a particular subreddit. I am assuming that this is a cheap way of treating to tear us down. This bot company also posts the same 1-star reviews on Google Maps, which Google keeps taking down.
I even had to deactivate my voicemail on my cellphone, because there was some bot harasser that left a voicemail every five minutes, demanding I take down the lawyer profiles or someone would “call the police for fraud.”
But some people see right through the defamation. They see that our mission is to increase lawyer accountability, and we have received a lot of support.
There is nothing illegal about indexing information from the internet
Someone emailed me the other day the following:
“I Googled your company and the challenges you are facing (believe it or not) make me want to work there more and more. There is nothing illegal about what you are doing but it seems that you ruffle feathers for doing something that ought to be common sense. I believe that, as long as other people’s information and photos are posted publicly and you obtain them legally, there is nothing inherently wrong about taking them and using them for your own service.”
People need to stop normalizing defamation online. Stop spreading lies and misinformation, and always question everything you read. Judges also need to do their part by being willing to hand out large judgments when someone posts a malicious review, which is relatively rare. It’s not uncommon for people to get $1 when they win defamation cases.
Seeing the judgment that just came out about Longhouse Specialty Forest Products getting the $90,000 judgment against Tyler Ginther gives me hope. Longhouse is a wood products company and Tyler Ginther was a customer who ordered wood. Ginther was building homes in White Rock, BC. There was a dispute about the quality of the wood delivered, and Ginther decided to try and get the credit card charge removed from the credit card company.
It should have been a clue to Ginther that he was entering dangerous legal territory when he complained to his credit card company, and they didn’t believe him. Just because he was dissatisfied with the product he received, it didn’t give him the right to commit credit card fraud (denying a charge when he approved it), nor did it give him the right to post false and malicious statements online about Longhouse.
The goal of fake reviews is to cause damage to a company
When someone writes something about a company like Longhouse Wood saying that they are dishonest with credit cards, and are running a fraud, it causes serious damage. The sole purpose of these types of reviews isn’t to educate the public, but to damage the business. In this case, the defendant refused to take down the reviews for three years (until after the lawsuit was filed.)
Starting a business is gut-retching work. It involves worrying or dealing with lawsuits, constantly organizing invoices and receipts for the bookkeeper, responding to regulators, cash flow issues, worrying about if the right people you hire are going to work out, and countless other stresses and doubts. Some random person should not be able to post false things about your business with the goal of destroying your hard work without consequences. If they do, there should be serious consequences.
If your business actually makes a mistake or is doing something wrong, bad reviews can be positive, in that they help your business improve. They can also give you the chance to tell your side of the story. When a lawyer posts a one-star review saying we are unethical, we respond by explaining our company’s mission, which is to increase lawyer accountability. We want the public to have access to information to decide on a lawyer. Who they pick doesn’t matter to us. We don’t make money from which law firm they pick. We don’t receive referral fees.
File lawsuits instead of defaming people
Instead of posting false things about a company, people should file lawsuits (if they actually think that what they are saying is true.) When you read on social media about some incredible wrong and damage that a company did to them, it’s 95% made up. The people know they could never convince a judge that they are right, so they just post on Reddit instead. Reddit feeds off drama, so they are unlikely to remove posts.
Many businesses also don’t file lawsuits, because it’s hard to calculate the dollar amount of damages that come from a bad online review. What is the dollar amount for someone saying that you are a fraud online? Most people just guess, but that doesn’t work for judges. So many defamers get away with it. Once I am done fighting for lawyer accountability, maybe I will build some technology to identify fake reviews online.
Author: Alistair Vigier is the CEO of Clearway Law, a company that wants to change the legal industry via lawyer reviews and a legal question forum.