Hotel lawsuits against internet commentators – think before you complain!

User generated content has revolutionized customer service in a variety of service industries mostly for the better. Nevertheless, hotel (and other) reviews on sites like Tripadvisor.com frequently find operators at their wits end battling biased and inexplicably false reviews posted – as some people just bring out the worst in their vacation experience. And often the cause seems simple: they do it just because they CAN. But now it seems that the time of “anonymous” internert comments is over – as some hotels are taking action.

For example, The Grand Palms Golf & Country Club in Pembroke Pines, FL, US is suing a woman for a negative review of their services. They filed suit in “October against Jessica Rapillo, accusing the New Yorker of posting a defamatory review that caused a noticeable drop in business. According to the lawsuit, the review on a travel Web site called the Grand Palms “the most disgusting, bug infested, rundown hotel.”

“The Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that “These suits are extremely common and starting to make their way through the courts,” said Lyrissa Lidsky, professor at the University of Florida. “Courts are starting to develop balancing tests to guarantee it’s a legitimate libel suit before they uncover the poster’s identity.” She was referring to anonymous posts. As for the libel suits, the Florida professor notes that “it’s often hard to know if such libel lawsuits are legitimate or if companies just want to muzzle their critics”.

The Sentinel article quotes Lidsky as warning that “anonymity on the Internet is not guaranteed. Businesses can subpoena service providers to track down who wrote a review, she said. “All of us are seeking information about the products we buy and the people we come into contact with,” Lidsky said. “A simple Google search is very common before you embark on any business venture. A company is foolhardy if they don’t monitor what is said about them online.”

Source: New York Hospitality by Vijay Dandapani

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