A Sydney plastic surgeon is suing Google for defamation due to a number of negative Google reviews left online.
Reports by the ABC say that the surgeon, who remains unnamed, claims that Google is liable for a serious decline in website views due to leaving negative reviews published online after he requested that they be removed. Google maintains that it was simply “a subordinate distributor” of this information.
The case has allegedly been going on since July, when the surgeon received an injunction against Google in the NSW Supreme Court and a contempt charge was considered due to a number of reviews remaining. However, Google dodged this bullet shortly afterwards, and the judge decided to rule against this due to the court being dissatisfied with evidence pertaining to when the removal requests were placed.
Reports say various Google reviews used the terms “butchered patients”, and said he was “incompetent”, “a fraud”, “an illicit drug user” and had “no morals”.
Court documents filed last Friday state that Google plans to argue, in its defense, that the surgeon called himself “a household name” with “unrivalled” expertise and “an industry leader”. It also stated “advertising and self-promotion in the style engaged in by the plaintiff involves puffery and hyperbole which is not susceptible of proof,” and that “In promoting himself in [this] manner, the plaintiff necessarily invites robust public criticism and review of his services and the quality of his work, and it is reasonable he should be the subject of such criticism.”
The judge also stated that some “mental gymnastics” were required when trying to decipher when requests for review removals originally took place – since various Google employees were based in different countries, in addition to some requests being made through the Google Australia subsidiary, when this process must actually go through Google LLC in the US.
This is being described as a landmark case, and it brings into question the moral implications of all review websites like Google, Facebook, WOMO etc., and how swiftly they act in response to potentially defamatory material being published via their platforms.
When it comes to plastic surgery, this case is another in a string of incidents this year involving negative Google reviews. Well-known Sydney Plastic Surgeon, Dr Kourosh Tavakoli, came away with a settlement of $80,000 after the conclusion of a defamation case in July, and earlier this year, Silkwood Medical’s Director and Plastic Surgeon Dr Warwick Nettle went through similar legal turmoil after a patient that had seen him for a consultation went on to post negative reviews about him using several fake google accounts.