If you’ve been watching the reputation management industry you might have noticed a slew of failed lawsuits aimed at third party review websites. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get defamatory content removed from third party sites simply by suing the host site.
The reason is the Communications Decency Act, or the CDA. This law was passed back in 1996, at a time where most people were still accessing the Internet through dial-up and the World Wide Web as we know it was still relatively new. The law was originally meant to battle pornography on the Internet. However, most of the Web as we know today, from blog comments to Twitter, would not exist without a specific provision of this act: Section 230. Section 230 indicates that a website cannot be sued or prosecuted for anything posted by a visitor—even if that website owner chooses to leave that content in place. This law neatly shields sites like Yelp, the Ripoff Report, Trip Advisor, and Pissed Consumer. These sites get 99% of their content from third parties! You can, of course, sue the person who originally posted the content, if you can find them.
There are ways to subpoena IP addresses, which can help layers track down the original poster in some cases. However, finding the original poster isn’t always possible. Some people post from anonymous accounts and on public computers. These individuals are all but impossible to locate. All of this means that the courts are rarely the best place to resolve problems with third party review sites. You could waste a lot of money and time by trying. Of course, you can’t simply ignore the problem, either. One review on those sites can slowly kill your business. This is where having a proactive reputation management strategy comes in handy. Though it’s very difficult to remove content from third-party review sites, you can still make sure that very few people see the content. If few people see it, the damage that they do is mitigated. You can do this by building a “virtual firewall” around your business.
This means using SEO-focused strategies to create a huge web presence which overshadows 3rd party review content altogether. You control the content on your virtual firewall, which means you don’t have to worry about it disappearing or turning against you. This strategy is a lot more certain than a lawsuit—and a lot less expensive, as well.