We’re used to the concept of “freedom of speech” and the notion that we’re all allowed to say whatever we want.

However, from a Torah perspective, we’re responsible for what we say, and the laws of lashon harah, the prohibition against disparaging or gossiping, applies to leaving a review as well.

Generally, even if what you’re saying is true, if it may damage someone’s reputation or cause financial harm, it can potentially be problematic even if you don’t have any negative intentions.1

However, there are times when not only are you allowed to leave a negative review, but it would be your obligation to do so.

The following guidelines are enumerated in the book Chafetz Chaim, by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (commonly known as the Chafetz Chaim):2

  1. It must be for a benefit: The objective of publicizing the wrongdoing must be a legitimate benefit, such as warning others so that they’ll be protected from harm.
  2. It must be true: You must be certain that the information you have is factually correct. Additionally, this cannot be second-hand information.
  3. It must be relevant and objective: You may only write the relevant facts objectively; any exaggeration violates the prohibition of speaking falsehood. So, for example, saying an establishment is expensive (even if it is more expensive than other stores in the area3 ) or that the food is not tasty are subjective judgments and are prohibited.
  4. Confront the vendor first: If there is a possibility that the vendor will rectify the situation without you having to publicize the negative information, you are obligated to try that route first. For example, many online retailers, when warned about a possible negative review, are more than willing to rectify the problem.
  5. The benefit outweighs the loss: The potential damages you are averting by your review are greater than the potential damage to the offender. For example, leaving a single star review saying a certain establishment regularly forgets to send napkins with your order may lead them to remedy the problem, but it may also scare off many potential customers, who would otherwise be happy, causing greater unwarranted loss to the restaurant.
  6. No other recourse: There must be no other means by which the desired effect can be achieved. If there is a way to accomplish what you need to without saying negative things (or by keeping it to a minimum and still having the desired result), then you need to do that.
  7. Check your motivation: Why are you leaving this review? Is it genuinely to help others avoid the same pitfall or to encourage the establishment to improve, or are you feeling spiteful and angry? If the motivation is a long-standing grudge (even if what is being posted is true) or a desire to ridicule the wrongdoer, the review should not be made.

Where to leave the review

As we noted, one of the criteria for leaving a review is that it be beneficial. The laws of negative speech apply both to the one speaking or leaving the review as well as the one who receives the report. In light of this, one should only leave the reviews in a place that would indeed prevent one from being victimized (for example, on the product page). Posting a negative review on social media, for example, where you know it isn’t really relevant to most of those reading it, can be problematic.

Our sages tell us that many of the exiles, including our present exile following the destruction of the Second Temple, were brought about through negative speech. Through being extra careful with our speech (and writing) about others, we have the ability to rectify this and bring about the ultimate Redemption. May it be speedily in our days!