If I had a dime for every time a client complained to me that a customer violated a contract, well thankfully I’d only have like 50 cents. But still, it does happen. And when it does the client sometimes asks me if it’s okay to write a bad review online. That’s when I hesitate.
Whenever possible, You should never badmouth a party in public at all… yes even one who acts in bad faith. But if you’re absolutely going to do it no matter what, you should definitely wait until you’ve recouped what you’re owed (or as much of it as you can) from them and acquired a written history of their bad faith actions. Even then I’m hesitant to advise it. I’m a big fan of killing them with kindness no matter how badly you’re treated, because if you’re ever involved in a litigation, all of your communications will come out in discovery; you don’t want a judge or jury thinking YOU’RE the asshole in this transaction.
Most people don’t write bad reviews when they’re in a good frame of mind. They’re upset - understandably so - but not necessarily thinking clearly about the long-term effects of their actions. So it’s really easy for a person who has been harmed and is mad about it to overstep and accidentally defame the offending party. And the last thing you want is to be sued for defamation when you’re the victim.
There’s a fine line between warning people of bad faith operators and defamation. Defamation is defined as a statement to at least one other party about a person designed to ruin that person’s reputation. Usually the statement must also be false, but that is not a requirement in every state. When the defamatory statement is spoken, it is called slander, when it is written or otherwise recorded, it is called libel, but no matter what form it takes, the effect is the same.
Your intent in making the statement also matters, as well as the defamed party’s public status… if the party is a public figure (politician, celebrity, etc), for example, your statement must be made with malicious intent, while a statement against a private figure must only be made with negligence. It’s also worth noting that simple name-calling is generally not considered defamation and statements of opinion might also not be considered defamatory (depending on context, of course) since they are harder to prove.
Here are some examples:
“Don’t work with John Smith Productions. They purposely stole my idea and cut me out of the production without paying me!” This is most likely defamation if the statement is false because it asserts as fact that the production company stole your work (on purpose, no less).
“I think John Smith Productions used my copyright without asking me.” Because this is a statement of opinion, it is less likely to be considered defamatory, though it wouldn’t necessarily prevent the production company from suing you anyway, especially if the statement is untrue.
“John Smith Productions is filled with conniving thieves and John Smith is the worst of them all!” Whether or not this is factually true, because this statement is merely name calling and doesn’t allege actual wrongdoing, this would not be considered defamatory.
What I tell people who are determined to write a bad review online is this: divorce yourself as much as you can from emotion. Statements of fact that you can actually back up with evidence are best. And of course, make sure that whatever you say is TRUE. When in doubt, be kind and truthful. Just because you were treated badly doesn’t mean you have to become the bad guy too.