Online Complaints vs Slander: What’s the Difference?

Brook Zimmatore | May 4, 2016


Slanders comments. Libel. Complaints.  Loss of face.  Sullied name.  There are lots of terms for possible defamation of you or your business.  Here’s your guide for deciphering the terms and assessing the damage.

Some Definitions

Legally, slander is a verbal complaint.  Libel is a written defamatory statement. Complaints are not illegal, but slander, libel and intentional defamation can have legal recourse.

Assessing a Complaint

There are steps you can take, on your own, to assess a complaint.  At any point, of course, one could also seek legal counsel.

Take a look at a complaint for the following:

  • Is it true? Did the events occur, as described.
  • Is it specific? Does the complaint give good specifics, or general negative commentary.
  • Is it anonymous? Do you have a way to contact the commentator?

You can take action based on your answers to the above questions.

A Specific Negative Comment

While some would advise you to ignore negative comments (and if you have a slew of positive feedback, that may be fine), my advice is generally to respond to specifics and attempt to correct.  “The customer is always right,” does, unfortunately at times, apply to most companies and transactions.  If you can, offer a substitute or free product or service to the complainer.  Do not require that the negative comment be removed.  If they choose to, great! If not, go ahead and post a reply explaining what occurred and what you did to make it up, or what action you took to correct a situation.  Customers will appreciate your honesty.

A General, Anonymous or Unfounded Complaint

Even if a complaint is unfounded, if you are able to, follow the advice above and attempt to make it up to a customer.  Whatever free product or service you might offer will be nothing compared to possible legal costs.

If a slanderous comment fits the definition of libel, you may have legal recourse.  In some situations, such as when a negative opinion is posted on a blog, but is labeled as an opinion (such as “I think…”), it may be easiest to reach out to the writer and attempt to correct the situation.  If a comment is intentionally malicious, if it contains statements that are directly false and/or if you can demonstrate its harm to you and/or your business, you may have a case.  Under such circumstances, it is best to seek legal counsel.

In this age of e-commerce, public opinion and word-of-mouth are more accessible than ever, and therefore more important than ever.  If you stay on top of it, with these tips, you can persist through the bumps along the road.

CEO / Co-Founder
Brook Zimmatore is the Co-Founder & CEO at Massive.