Is a negative Google Review defamation in Australia?

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Is a negative Google Review defamation in Australia?

Digital marketing in Australia, and around the world, includes online reputation management.  Reviews are usually a great way for prospective clients to see testimonials from existing clients.  The business owners usually love it when they are left a review! What happens when it all turns bad and your business gets a negative review?

Businesses in Australia are increasingly turning to online reputation management as they strive to protect their brand against negative reviews. With the rise of social media and consumer review sites, a single negative post can have devastating effects on business’s bottom line.

We at #thePOSITIVE Digital marketing in Australia Agency encourage our clients to have a standardised Reputation Management process for answering negative reviews, but if you think the client has gone too far the question remains: is a negative Google Review defamation in Australia?

Defamation and the concept of “harm”

Under Australian law, defamation occurs when someone publishes material that would cause another person harm – a person’s reputation to be lowered or damaged. For example, if someone were to write an untrue statement about a company on Google Reviews, this could amount to defamation depending on the context. In 2020, an Australian court declared that false accusations of criminal activity posted online did constitute defamatory behaviour under Australian law and awarded damages against the poster for reputational damage caused by these posts.

The Law is a complex beast, so one succesful defamation case does not mean all negative reviews are defamation. For small businesses the line is not so clear, during January 2023, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that:

A NSW judge has ruled that a house painter who sued a former customer over a one-star Google review failed to satisfy a new serious harm test that is required to bring a defamation claim.

The Judge also noted:

The posts in the case “present the information as personal experience and views, the period of publication was brief and there is no evidence anyone ever read it”, Judge Gibson said.

It is true that negative reviews can damage your business, it is also true that it is expensive to take a disgruntled client to Court over a negative review.  Being able to clearly define what “harm” the review caused to you and/or your business seems to clearly play a major role in determining if your legal action will be successful.

Preventative Action

It is definately worth while seeking advice before you leap into legal action.  It is also prudent to be pro-active by having a good client-care communication process in place to ensure you get the opportunity to discuss percieved under-delivery with your clients … before they post a negative review.

You can read the full SMH Article: HERE

You can read the full reason for the decision, by the Judge:  HERE 

Author: Kimmaree Thompson | First Published 27 Jan 2023


During 2023 we will be running a public Online Reputation Management Group Coaching Masterclass, please email if you would like to be put on the Early Bird List to get advice when we will be running that program on a group basis.  We also offer Personalised Online Reputation Management Executive Coaching and In-house Online Reputation Management workshops.  Book your free initial consultation to explore what options will work best for your organisation.

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