Bad service? Don’t slam that company on Facebook or Twitter just yet

WASHINGTON — The moving company managed to lose a box of your family heirlooms. The fast food place got your order wrong and the person behind the counter didn’t say, “I’m sorry.” But maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to go online with your complaints.

It takes two seconds to whip out your phone and start tapping out a complaint about a company’s bad or disgusting service. But your online venom could land you in court.

More companies are suing over negative reviews, especially if they think what you’ve written is untrue. The charge is usually defamation.

“Now that the Internet has become so much more influential, the companies that were criticized are really starting to take notice. And if they think we’re wrong, or even if they just think it’s a damaging criticism that they don’t want to see in public, they might come after us with a lawsuit,” says Matt Heimer with

The District and Maryland offer some protections against so-called SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuits against public participation), but Virginia does not.

But what if you wait until you’ve cooled off before writing your online review? Heimer says if you’re going to criticize companies online, be accurate, don’t exaggerate and keep a cool head. Instead of a lawsuit, you’ll probably get an apology, if not a gift certificate.

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