Posting Negative Online Reviews

It’s very common to write an online review of any business you patronized, product you purchased, or hotel you visited (on Google, Yelp, Amazon, etc.). How is doing so consistent with the laws against lashon hara – forbidden gossip? If the business is owned by a Jew and you have complaints about it, can you publicize them online?

It’s likewise common for businesses to post fake positive reviews to promote themselves. Is this allowed since such practices are relatively easy and commonplace?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are right that such practices are dubious. Publicizing negative information about another, whether through speech or writing, falls under the general heading of lashon hara – evil speech.

There are cases when we are permitted to share negative information about another Jew (or his business) to protect others from harm. However, several conditions must be met before we may do so, such as that we first try complaining to the business owner himself, we only share the information with those to whom it is relevant, and that the information does not cause any more damage than the owner actually deserves. We also must share our negative report for entirely sincere reasons, and not to vent our anger against the person who ripped us off.

It would thus seem clear that online reviews are problematic. For starters, such reviews are visible to everyone, not only the people to whom it is relevant.

I have heard some people argue that business owners today clearly permit others to post negative reviews about them – since it’s understood that all businesses today are subject to such treatment. Thus, there is an automatic assumed forgiveness for such a practice. However, I don’t find such an argument very convincing. Just because a person enters a dangerous place does not mean we are permitted to kill him. Likewise, if a person leaves himself vulnerable to embarrassment, we are not allowed to shame him.

Posting fake positive reviews as authentic is clearly a form of dishonesty and is likewise forbidden. (When I wrote a highly positive review of my son’s book, I began with the “full disclosure” that the review was being written by his father.)

On a related note, one should always be wary of online reviews that he does read. When we are told negative information about another Jew, we may not accept it as absolute fact, but may at most take into account that it might be true. It may well be colored by the biases of the person who wrote it, and not be an accurate or objective assessment of the person or business under discussion.

See also this nice article about the importance of not accepting negative reviews as fact.

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