My wife and I run a referral site for professionals in the childbirth industry where past clients can post testimonials (reviews) of their experience working with the professional. We are trying to figure out how to handle negative reviews that the professional wants edited or removed. We had a recent case where the professional asserted that some of the facts in the review were lies.
We want our site to be viewed by consumers as a high-integrity unbiased source of information that supports their decision to hire the right professional. And we have tension from the other direction in that we are going to start charging the professionals to have a listing on the site...so they might feel justified in saying "hey I'm your customer, cater to my needs and remove the bad reviews that are full of lies".
Negative reviews are very rare so far...out of about 1,000 reviews posted so far less than 10 have been negative. And overall the review feature has been very successful, making professionals come back over and over to check their reviews. Some of them are quite competitive with their peers on reviews, which has made the site much more "sticky" for them and is promoting lock-in for us.
We do remove things when the consumer tells us to do so.
Some options we are considering are:
Judge ourselves whether to remove something (hard to do and we don't really want to get in the middle of a he-said/she-said debate over the facts, plus this seems like a higher risk from a legal liability perspective)
Never remove anything, but allow a rebuttal statement for the professional to explain their side of the story
Defer to the professional's certifying organization. If they investigate the grievance and tell us the review is not factually accurate, we will remove it. And we are considering putting a flag on the professional's profile on our site stating they had a review removed (without showing the review content). This is the option we are leaning towards.
Be like Yelp and make them pay to have the bad review removed (ha ha...not!)
Are there other approaches we haven't considered or recommendations for handling this policy question? Our objectives are to be fair, to promote transparency/integrity by having some negative reviews, and to minimize our effort and risks.