One of the most crucial aspects of online reputation management is combating negative, false, or malicious content that appears on popular or even authoritative sites. Allegations made online are often enough to cause serious damage to your reputation and bottom line, even if the story or review is later retracted or corrected.
A now infamous source of content that proves to be a nightmare for individuals and businesses alike is Ripoff Report, a complaint site managed by Ed Magedson and owned by Xcentric Ventures LLC which has faced over 100 lawsuits itself. Every online reputation management strategy must include an action plan to both protect and combat this kind of threatening content.
What is Ripoff Report?
Ripoffreport.com is a site where anyone over the age of 14 can anonymously file a complaint about any company or individual. Because the site does not have any kind of user verification process, it has become notorious for false, malicious, and defamatory reports. While users must assert that their reports are accurate, Ripoff Report does not investigate or fact check any of the submissions. The site’s Terms of Service make it clear that accuracy is not guaranteed:
“Opinions, advice, statements, offers, or other information or content made available through ROR are those of their respective authors and not of Xcentric, and should not necessarily be relied upon. Such authors are solely responsible for the accuracy of such content.
Xcentric does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information on ROR and neither adopts nor endorses nor is responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any opinion, advice or statement made. Under no circumstances will Xcentric be responsible for any loss or damage resulting from anyone’s reliance on information or other content posted on ROR.”
Submitted reports remain on the site permanently, even if an author realizes they made a mistake and wants to remove their report:
“ROR is a permanent record of disputes, including disputes which have been fully resolved. In order to maintain a complete record, information posted on ROR, subject to the Terms outlined herein, will not be removed. By posting information on ROR, you understand and agree that the material you post will become part of ROR’s permanent record and will NOT be removed even at your request.”
Furthermore, Ripoff Report does not allow positive reviews, making it a site that simply encourages negative content. Even the courts agree that Ripoff Report is biased: in 2015, The United States District Court for the District of Utah found that the website’s owner is not a neutral publisher, despite Ripoff Report’s claims to the contrary. Essentially, the court concluded that the site manipulatively publishes negative content to try and get money from individuals and businesses who want to fight the report. You should never pay a site like Ripoff Report, because then they will hold you hostage. Once they know you are willing to give them money, they’ll have a new report published knowing they’ll get paid again.
The Damage Ripoff Report Can Cause
Despite the fact that Ripoff Report is so unregulated, it still manages to severely impact the reputation of individuals and businesses, leading to income and customer loss, expensive and tiresome litigation, and long difficult roads of recovery. Ripoff Report has been sued numerous times for failure to remove defamatory content, and Google has been sued for not removing links to that content and for making it easier for users to find with its autocomplete function. Many cases have yet to be resolved and very few have come out in favor of those who have been maliciously targeted.
According to Whitney C. Gibson of the Internet Defamation Group for Ohio-based law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, “One of the biggest problems with ROR is that they don’t remove business reports from their website, even if a court finds that the company was defamed. Because of the name of the website, just being listed on the website at all is very damaging to business.”
What You Can Do
While Ripoff Report has attempted to modify their policies, they don’t offer truly tangible or cost-effective options for protecting yourself or your company. In 2013, Ripoff Report added a service known as “Ripoff Report Verified,” which allows companies without previous complaints to sign up for a “Verified” account for a monthly fee, where they will be notified if a complaint or negative review is filed.
Later they developed VIP arbitration, a service that costs $2,000 and merely facilitates a brief written correspondence between the accused and the accuser via an arbitrator who has the final ruling over what remains on record. Ripoff Report states, however, that even if the accuser has used a fake email address or doesn’t respond, a favorable ruling is not guaranteed. Again, their new policies simply do not go far enough and allow the site to continue to cause unfair damage.
While individuals and companies are allowed to post rebuttals, experts agree that acting prematurely can do more harm than good. It’s essential to enlist the expertise of both your legal and PR team, which should include a professional online reputation management firm.
The most effective way to protect yourself is to have a proactive strategy in place that goes to work before something like a Ripoff Report is able to strike. Having a team dedicated to monitoring your search results 24/7, who has extensive experience mitigating emergent situations, and who is able to put proprietary resources into proactively building out a strong online landscape will become invaluable when issues arise. If you haven’t been actively publishing content, engaging on social media, and effectively building your own presence online, it will be that much easier for Ripoff Report to severely injure your reputation.