NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For a lot of people these days, online reviews are important. And, if a company or restaurant has a lot of bad reviews, chances are people will go elsewhere.
Locals may remember the story of a Nashville painting business that was getting hundreds of bad reviews from people who were never customers. In fact, they were not even real people.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates first exposed the issue two years ago on how those fake reviews were actually being posted by a competitor.
Those hundreds of fake, bad reviews were almost too much for that painting company to survive, but it did. And now a state lawmaker wants to make sure the same kind of libel doesn't happen to anyone else.
Bill Nishanian, the owner of Nash Painting, thought his customers were happy and satisfied with the work his crews were doing. But then negative reviews started coming in, and they just kept coming.
"We had 88, and then there was 100, and there was 160 and then the next month 170," Nishanian told NewsChannel 5 Investigates in 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
All told, there were nearly 700 of them in just one year.
"All of these were fake reviews?" we asked.
"100% of them," he confirmed.
Not only were the names of the supposed customers fake, but their photos had been stolen from real people. It turned out, a competitor in the painting business was behind this.
"I thought it was a very interesting story," Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Now he has a bill that prohibits posting a review that is factually false on the internet with the intent to defraud the public.
"It makes the fine, which was $500, it can be tripled now. It gives the judge more flexibility to hand out penalties to help the consumer or business owner," Rep. Byrd said.
Byrd said the legislation was specifically written after he heard Nishanian's story.
"He told me how hard it was for him to get anybody to help him, and he said if we could just do something that would be a deterrent, that would put a little more teeth into what we had. And so that’s what I tried to do," Byrd told fellow state lawmakers who considered the legislation during a House subcommittee meeting last week.
But Byrd said his bill has broad appeal as a lot of people rely on what others say about a business online.
"Anytime I buy anything or go out of state, eat at restaurants, the first thing that I do is Google the reviews," he said.
And, Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, then suggested that it's not just consumers who will benefit.
"I think it’s really important because like you said you could basically take your competitors out by just putting up a bunch of bad reviews because reviews are so critical," Powell said during that same House subcommittee meeting.
The bill made it out of that subcommittee last week. And Rep. Byrd hopes it will make a difference, if not for Bill Nishanian and his Nash Painting company, then at least others.
"Hopefully this will deter a company from going after a company like this," Byrd said.
The bill is set to go before the full Commerce committee Tuesday and Representative Byrd is optimistic that it will get out of committee and eventually be passed by the full legislature this session.
Meanwhile, the owner of Nash Painting told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that while he successfully sued that competitor for damages, it took countless hours to finally get all of those negative fake reviews taken down.
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