An Australian plastic surgeon has gone to court in Sydney to try and prove that his business suffered damages from online reviews and that Google is to blame, Australia-based ABC reports.
But Google’s legal tactic seems to be to “blame the victim” – by asserting that the allegedly exaggerated tone and type of self-promotion used by the doctor in his ads on Google’s platform were such that it “invited robust public criticism.”
The reviews at the center of this case accused the surgeon of being a drug user and a fraud who butchered his patients – undoubtedly defamatory, but is Google responsible?
The doctor, who has not been named, claims that Google is indeed liable for publishing the reviews and keeping them up after he requested that they be removed – but Google describes itself merely as “a subordinate distributor” of this content. The trial is likely to focus on the status of the tech giant, along with its reaction to complaints and how and when it decides to remove content from its platforms.
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The plaintiff says his business suffered under a year-long barrage of negative reviews, leading to significantly reduced site traffic he was getting from Google. And in the process of trying to deal with negative publicity, he found Google unresponsive to his removal requests.
While Google’s defense team scolds the doctor for “hyperbole and puffery” in the way he promoted his business, saying that it’s “reasonable” that he should face negative reviews – the giant washes its hands off any responsibility, as it wasn’t “reasonable” to expect Google to be aware of the defamatory nature of the comments.
Nevertheless, the surgeon did file removal requests, and the court will now establish how that process works inside Google.
Google also revealed ahead of the trial next month that it allows reviews to be written without consulting the business “at least sometimes” – which a judge said was “a dangerous idea.”
There had been cases in the past of people leaving false reviews on Google and then sued and ordered to pay hefty fines – but this trial is described as a landmark case as the plaintiff has gone after Google as a platform that allowed the reviews to be published.