There’s a lengthy list of things you can do, and shorter subset of things you should do. Which is just another way of saying just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should do that thing.
For instance, if you have a subpar experience at the dentist, you can take to Facebook and fire off a series of posts complaining about the office, even insinuating that the company was under investigation for unethical and fraudulent acts. Whether you should do that is another question entirely, one that a Pennsylvania man will find out after the dental group sued him for libel.
Details are a little scarce, since media outlets are wary of reprinting the contents of the posts, but Three Rivers Dental Group filed a libel lawsuit against Robert Ottaviani last week, claiming his statements on Facebook and elsewhere contain false and damaging information. As reported by the Tribune-Review:
According to the lawsuit, Ottaviani’s initial post on Facebook on May 20 contained inaccurate information that suggested the company was under investigation for unethical and fraudulent acts. Subsequent edits to the original post and additional statements on Facebook and on other online forums continued to contain false and disparaging information, the lawsuit contends.
The suit against Ottaviani also claims that "(Three Rivers Dental) is suffering untold harm because of this malicious campaign of disparagement in that it is unable to know how many former or potential future patients have decided to go elsewhere for their dental care needs as a result of defendant’s disparaging posts online," and is seeking monetary damages and an order forcing Ottaviani to remove the posts. Posts that appear linked to Ottaviani currently on Google and Yelp also claim the dental group is under investigation, and assert the claims are truthful, and therefore not defamatory.
While we’re not sure if Ottaviani was right to post these statements and others regarding Three Rivers Dental, he is right about truth being a defense to defamation. A defendant making a false statement is an essential element of a libel or slander claim, so if the underlying statement turns out to be true, the plaintiff can’t win a defamation lawsuit. In this case, it may just be determining when the dental group is, in fact, under investigation. But sorting out social media defamation cases is not always so easy.
So, while you can give your doctor or dentist a negative review on Facebook, you should keep the review truthful and stick to the facts. And if a medical professional tries to make you sign an agreement promising not to write negative reviews online, or sues you for online comments, contact an experienced defamation attorney immediately.