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Yelp Reviews Ruled Free Speech Until Proven Defamatory. Right Call?

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Yelp Reviews Ruled Free Speech Until Proven Defamatory. Right Call?
[ Business]

Last month, in a case of free speech vs. business reputation, a Virginia judge ordered Yelp (and Angie’s List) user Jane Perez to change negative reviews on the sites, which cast a contractor as a thief. The contractor, Christopher Dietz (of Dietz Development), sued Perez for $750,000 in damages in a defamation case, claiming to have lost business (as much as $300,000) because of her negative postings. You can read the lawsuit here (pdf).

The reviews in question indicate that Perez found her jewelry missing, and that “Dietz was the only one with the key.” One could see where a consumer might steer clear of a contractor with such a review. The problem, however, is that Perez has so far not been able to prove that Dietz stole her jewelry, and it’s basically one person’s word vs. the other’s. In addition to ordering her reviews changed, the injunction prevented Perez from being able to make similar claims on other sites.

Do you think Perez’s negative reviews should be allowed to remain online? Let us know in the comments.

The case goes on. However, since Perez was ordered to change her reviews, the ACLU and Public Citizen appealed the Fairfax County Judge’s decision in the name of free speech, and it went to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which overturned the temporary inunction, ruling:

“Upon further consideration whereof, the Court also finds that the preliminary injunction was not justified and that the respondents have an adequate remedy at law.

“This order shall be certified to the said circuit court.”

In other words, the court found that Perez shouldn’t have to change the reviews as long as they have yet to be proven libelous, and being sued for damages was enough. Whether or not Dietz gets his victory, remains to be seen, but in the meantime, it looks like Perez’s words will be allowed to remain in tact. If they are found to be libelous, they would be required to be removed from the sites. That just has to be proven first, and in the meantime, it may still be costing Dietz some business.

Interestingly, there is currently only one review listed for Dietz Development on Yelp, and it simply says: “I read about how these people sued a woman for giving them a negative review on Yelp. Scary stuff.”

The review is accompanied by a single star rating, and it is the first thing you see when you search ro “Dietz Development” in Google:

Dietz Development on Google

It’s unclear why Perez’s review is not currently showing up on Yelp, in light of recent legal events. It is also interesting that while Yelp is only showing this single review (which, by the way, really isn’t about the business itself), it has 8 other reviews marked “filtered,” which it does not show unless you click the link, which also requires you to enter a CAPTCHA. Reviews in this section are mixed. Some are clear responses to the lawsuit, like:

“They do shady work and then sue people if they post a negative review about them. Not cool.”

“Had my bathroom done in Fall 2011. It was an absolute nightmare. There was continuous argument over the crew not following my wishes. The project ended up looking terrible and they refused to make any changes without additional payment. Avoid this place at all costs.”

“I hired Dietz Development to build me a room/addition to my house for $20,000 and it would only take 2 weeks….somehow, they did a demolition job instead and dynamited everything, so now I have no house, just a hole in the ground! Plus the final bill was $30,000 (and it took them THREE weeks, not two!!!) Hey, at least my jewelry isn’t missing.”

One simply says, “Called to get a quote, the person on the phone was very rude, I wish I had gotten his name. I did not use them based on customer service.”

The other half of the reviews are quite positive, each with 5-star ratings. One user says, “Having SEEN the work this contractor does and MEETING him in the flesh, I can say you can expect top notch service from Dietz Development. Pay no mind to hateful hipsters who post negative reviews of a company they have no knowledge of.”

Then, there are 65 reviews that Yelp says have been removed for violating content guidelines or terms of service. I would imagine that a number of people have dropped by the page to say something in response to the suit.

Yelp’s filtering of reviews is automated. CEO Jeremy Stoppelman talks about it here. Here’s a video about it:

Public Citizen, which has maintained an archive of court documents related to this case, called the Supreme Court’s decision “a positive move for free speech on the Internet”. In a press release, the organization wrote:

Public Citizen argued that the contractor could get damages if, after a full trial, a jury agrees that Perez made false claims about him that meet the standard for libel. Because such a process has not occurred, forcing Perez to remove her comments amounted to censorship.

“The decision confirms the importance of not shutting down public discussion on the Internet just because someone doesn’t like what’s being talked about,” said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen. “Review sites like Yelp are vehicles for the free flow of ideas by helping consumers make informed decisions on how to spend their hard-earned dollars.”

This is far from the first time a business has sued a consumer for negative reviews on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. The outcomes have varied. As Bob Sullivan at NBC’s Red Tape points out, “An Oregon judge dismissed one lawsuit filed by a dentist earlier this year. Months earlier, a similar lawsuit filed by a church pastor was also dismissed. On the other hand, a case filed by a neurologist in Minnesota after negative comments was initially dismissed, but reinstated by a state appeals court earlier this year. And there are dozens of other ongoing cases — many involving health care — including one involving a Chicago plastic surgeon suing former patients for $100,000 after they criticized his work online.”

“Still, the threat of a libel lawsuit has become a more common tactic by businesses trying to dissuade consumers from making critical comments in public forums,” he adds. “A Red Tape reader in Ohio complained last month that she was threatened with such a lawsuit after she placed a sign on her front lawn criticizing a home alarm company.”

As far as review sites go, the companies behind them have protections against being held accountable for what users write in their policies, and in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Liz Gannes at All Things D shares this statement from Yelp:

Consumer freedom of speech provides an important public service, protected by law. Yelp provides a valuable contribution to this dialogue by providing a two-way platform for consumers to share their experiences and for businesses to respond to their customers. Courts have consistently ruled that consumers have the right to share their truthful experiences. As a result, businesses that choose to sue their customers to silence them rather than address their comments, rarely prevail and often bring additional unwanted attention to the original criticism.

To that point, TechDirt’s Mike Masnick makes an interesting point about Dietz’s suit: “Whether or not the original allegations were true, now he’s made it clear that he’s willing to sue over reviews as well. It seems like most people might see that and decide to hire a contractor who not only has good reviews, but doesn’t have a history of suing his customers over their online reviews.”

As we can see from the reviews currently on Yelp, consumers will see that he has sued.

Reactions to the Dietz/Perez case from WebProNews readers have been mixed, but as business owners, many have sided with Dietz. Online reputation is indeed a serious issue for businesses. There’s no denying Dietz has a valid point about that. Negative reviews can hurt businesses financially, and if there are false accusations about your business out there, you obviously want to get them cleared up. It will be interesting to see how swiftly the courts are able to get the whole case sorted out. Regardless of which side is right, Dietz stands to lose business as it goes on.

Do you think the courts got this one right so far? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Yelp Reviews Ruled Free Speech Until Proven Defamatory. Right Call?
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  • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez

    Absolutely not! I’m in the tourism business. I’ve seen it all! One time we had a guest who’s cell phone went missing the day that she arrived at our hotel. For the entire week she was rude and nasty. She also threatened to write a nasty review!! We have been in business for 20 years and never once has any valuables been stolen. And we’ve had much more valuable things in our hotel than a cell phone.

    On the day of their departure the lady’s husband was packing their rental car. When he lifted the back seat her cell phone fell out of the side between the seat and the car.

    We didn’t say anything but the look on her husband’s face said it all.

    I know that bad things happen. But not everyone should be allowed to be judge, jury, AND executioner.

    • Josh Hobbs

      I 100% agree with you. I too deal with the public, and I have learned that if you deal with 10 people, you may get 10 different personalities. Point being, the person that wrote the review could have said, I believe someone from the Contracting company took my ring, but I can not prove it and I am not 100% for sure they did it. The ring could have got lost by me, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that it became missing during the time period the Contractor was workimg at my house. You can’t just 100% make a statement that you don’t know is 100% true. If the homneowner had a camera up that caught the Contractor as a thief, absolutely you could ring the contractor’s neck and make such a claim.

      • http://www.70thirty.co.uk Paul

        Yes I agree with this version too. Maybe she did lose it prior to the contractors going in and using it as a replacement pathway. Who knows

    • http://www.70thirty.co.uk Paul

      But not everyone should be allowed to be judge, jury, AND executioner. I don’t like that statement one little bit, noone should play any part than 1.

  • Fred

    Why do you think negative comments exist? It is up to adults to make an intelligent decision based on all information available to them. If only positive reviews existed, you would never have any differing opinions! Any site that allows comments/negative reviews should also allow the business to respond to the negative review!!!!! If the business can not justify their response to the dis-satisfied customer, then they deserve the consequences. This decision is wrong!!!

  • MHeston

    The problem with Online reviews vs. legal means to solve an issue, is that to leave a scathing review on Yelp it cost exactly $0.00 and can be completed in 5 minutes. On the other side it cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars and will take months, if not years to for the legal case to be decided, and this presents an unfair advantage to the posters. The have Zero cost and time invested to damage a business and even if the business does prevail in court it will undoubtedly suffer damage to the company’s reputation and business.

    To further complicate this “free speech” is that people who have a positive experience with a vendor are many times less likely to comment on Yelp, and one scathing comment negates 5 positive post.

    • jane

      MHeston is 100% corect. Reviewers have zero invested in their comment, and yet the potential to hurt the busness and the cost thereof is immeasureable both in money and reputation.

  • Ted Spero

    Yelp is playing both sides of the ‘freedom of speech’ card. They claim they support it yet use a self-created filter. To me, that is not freedom of speech. If they truly support freedom of speech, ALL reviews should appear. If there is an issue with the validity and truth to a post, there is a method to flag it for possible removal. Filtering ‘random’ (as they put it) reviews does nothing but inhibit freedom of speech.

    Also, a company is not only limited to the NUMBER of responses they can give, but also the LENGTH of the response. That is not equality.

    A company should have the option to ‘opt out’ of being on sites like Yelp where a company (Yelp) profits from theirs without any share of revenue. Just like the Yellow Pages.

  • Mason Barge

    All the woman said was that her jewelry went missing and that Dietz had the only key. Which sounds like statements of fact. How can a judge ban her from saying that?

    Yeah, people post unfair negative reviews sometimes, but the company can respond and grownups can figure out what’s what. The worst abuses, IMHO, are when a company posts a bunch of fake positive reviews — which actually seems like might have happened here. I see this all the time.

    • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

      The fact of the matter is that she could not prove anything – law is based on the idea of innocent until proven guilty, not an assumption of guilt because someone is able to be blamed.

      Making such accusations against another, especially when it is intended to harm their business, should be a criminal offense. You cannot use the banner of “freedom of opinion” to defend every kind of verbal attack or accusation against someone.

      The ruling was right, she should have pursued this through the legal system and not made baseless accusations against someone on the internet.

  • Robert Borchard

    My wife and I have been victimized by libelous comments on Yelp that have been inspired and facilitated by competitors. The impacts were tremendous! We can, of course, pursue a lawsuit and will if necessary, but it seems like an expensive and time consuming route. All we asked that the slanderous comments be deleted! As a practical matter, perhaps Yelp, with their support of this type of activity, will fund our retirement! Maybe that would be the best deal for us and the most appropriate “slap” for our competitor and Yelp!

  • http://www.campfirecontent.com Charlie

    Hmmm…
    Like so much of our “plastic existence” these days, the real Truth (with a capital “T”) is frequently attacked, and often forcibly changed into something “a bit more palatable”. Think about how political rhetoric and similar tactics are used, to ‘give them what they want to hear, not what you know to be true’; these are practices we’ve become numb to, or so it seems.

    Of course, the “victim” in this case could be either party, I think. Since the contractor certainly has a truly vested interest in what things are said about his work, his reputation, and other important facets of his business and his life, he has every right to concern himself with anything he feels unfairly threatens all of that, y’know?

    On the other hand, if the customer really DID experience the things she said in her review, and she can justify (prove?) her claims and comments, and feels she is telling the ‘real truth’ (in her opinion, of course), I would expect she should have the right to “express freely” her sentiments and opinions, too.

    We all know that online “reviews” can be submitted by anyone who meets the ‘submission guidelines (etc.)’ of the particular site being used. We also know that ONE review should never be a basis for making a decision about some things (such as who to hire as a contractor), so the issue at hand seems to be somewhat blown out of proportion (in my humble opinion). I’m sure it’s probably because it has now gone ‘viral’, so it has taken on a whole new persona, far beyond being simply “ONE review”, y’know?

    I’m just sayin’…

  • http://www.goldenpartbr.com.br J.GASTAO P.SILVA

    INVISTA NO BRASIL !

  • DB

    Hope he wins the case. It is libellous until proven otherwise. She should be ashamed.

    • http://www.70thirty.co.uk Paul

      Circumstantial evidence rules where there is no other basis to lean upon like concrete evidence.

      I can only assume that the defendant did not go to any lengths to prove their are wrongly held accountable for the lose and purely saw this as an opportunity to earn money without doing the work.

      I guess certain type of person stick together.

  • jane

    Reviews of everything from restaurants to shoes have totally gotten out of hand. Do we really need to know what someone thinks of every items a consumer purchases or rents. Many negative comments that are so very destructive to a business owner come from individuals who have no base for comparison or who simply love to see their comments in print, no matter the dire consequence to the business owners and managers that they “slammed.” Some review that I have read are simply outrageously derogatory and really do hurt businesses, especially in the economic times of the past few years. Most review sites do not even make the reviewer use their real name, which is a disservice to the business owner that has his/her business name and reputation tarnished. It is no longer freedom of speech. It is defammation of character and of a businesses good reputation at stake. It is not right.

  • http://topseowebdesign.com Dan Parsons

    I don’t think negative reviews are a bad thing, if the persons giving the reviews are identified. I know of a case where a disgruntled employee said all kinds of slanderous statements – none of which were true because I and other people I knew dealt with that company and the are reputable. She was probably fired for good cause then wanted vengeance. This type of review should not be allowed. Perhaps a standard format of a review could be createed where it would be difficult to give slanderous statements – just facts.

  • CyberWarPOW

    I think us as human beings have a lot of soul searching to do before they allow anybody to list blind comments on someone’s business. I own a recording studio, someone called to book a studio session one time, the guy never paid for the session nor left a deposit, after telling him he has to leave a deposit, he said he would through paypal but that never happened, another person then called soon after him and wanted to book on the same day as the other guy except this guy paid in full. The first guy was then mad that I booked the session and left an incredibly negative comment on the companies yelp page. The guy left a negative comment to my business and I never received one dime from him. My deposit policy is in place because many people in the past booked studio time and never showed. I tried removing the comment from Yelp to no avail. This does really hurt and what it taught me is in this internet age, us humans shouldn’t be giving blind freedom without any liability to destroy someone’s business without some type of recourse to remove those comments.

  • http://talkic.com talkic.com

    The reviews should stand…however the provider of the service being reviewed should be able to amend a response to negative reviews.

  • http://thecomputergal.com Nora McDougall-Collins

    I just don’t know why the contractor didn’t turn that post into a real publicity opportunity. Sue, sue, sue. That contractor has a public opportunity to answer where bad word-of-mouth is as damaging and not so easy to answer. How about posting an answer, especially a sympathetic, but humorous answer. How about asking some folks who really like his work to post? How about thinking creatively?

    This will make a great topic of discussion for my Social Networking for Business class. But, even that discussion will be negative publicity for the contractor. Unless he posts something really catching …

  • http://www.70thirty.co.uk Paul

    Yes the comment should stay and I shall explain how I come to this decision.

    Circumstantial evidence is evidence in which an inference is required to connect it to a conclusion of fact, like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime.

    Based on the information available I can only conclude that the contract is guilty has they were the only ones with key and in this case the key is the finger print.

  • JDavis

    From a legal point, this is more about accusing a person of a CRIME, than about hurting business reputation. That is where the slander is. Unless the person is convicted of a crime it is slander to say someone did one i.e. steal jewelry. That is why they always say “alleged” on the news.

  • P Kubica

    Yelp allows anyone to post anything about any business with little to no regard for the integrity of the comments. All it takes is a few friends to gang up on a small business for unprecidented negative comments resulting in non-provable defamatory comments which are very difficult to reverse.

  • http://www.belfast-architects.co.uk Alan

    Freedom of speech is a fine idea, but it needs people to act responsibly. Yelp is not the place to imply a person is a criminal. If there is proof then it is a police matter and the proper place to decide is Court not the internet. Such accusations are so serious they should not be allowed. It could be argued that Yelp and others are failing to adequately moderate the content posted. All rights have limits.

    On a wider point I believe there needs to be a responsibility placed on sites that allow reviews, a code of conduct that is binding, and has severe financial costs for failing to comply to the standards set.

    There are a lot of problems with basic concept of such sites, firstly competitors posting bad reviews either directly or indirectly. Secondly people with a grudge or jealously, or people who are themselves hateful and just plain spiteful. Why do we allow such people to print whatever bilge they can devise? Seriously. There is an assumption that the people writing the review are upstanding citizens, and then by default the trades person is the rogue.

    I would plead to people to write good reviews where they get good service and just do not review bad (unless it is a large business or government dept etc.). The reason I say this is because you have usually no idea of the circumstances and health of the person you are writing about, nor the possible consequences. Your review could have dire consequences.

    I wish Google’s search engines would degrade the ranking of these sites. They add little to what many of us want to read, but are often ranked well. If I want reviews then yes I would expect to see them if I type REVIEW of taxi services (or whatever), but I really don’t want to wade through pages of them if I am doing a search for a local taxi, etc.

  • steve

    As far as I can see, the contractor had no choice but to sue because of the allegation. However, it would have been different if she left a negative review along the lines of “I will never use that company again”
    I’m all for freedom of speech but with that come the responsibilty of truth. you can give a review and state your opinion but you shouldn’t be able to trash someone in public without any evidence to back it up.

    The “trial by media” circus around this case has ruined the companies reputation. I’m glad that I live in the UK, we have very strict laws about what can and can’t be said about a case that is going through the courts. Good luck finding an impartial jury when the company has been already tried and sentenced by media

  • http://yell.com santa

    i ask for a comments sorry reviews to be take of as the company got a bad review so the owner of the company got his girlfriend a the time and her children to use there email address and add reviews till the bad one was in page two so no one could see them. i told the site they were fake and gave the information for them to see and they were fake and from the girlfriends email (lets say the lady name has now changed they are now married opps see the fake company makes fake reviews to hid a bad one )

    my email complaint was sent

    REPLY

    **********************************************************************Thank you for your e-mail, we hope to respond to your enquiry within 48
    hours.

    Please remember you can make changes, update and administer your account
    using marketing.yell.com – login or register today.

    As a Yell customer you can manage your account quickly and easily. You can
    do the following online at a time that suits you:

    • Keep your contact details up-to-date via Your Profile
    • View your billing information and make payments
    • View and download statements and invoices
    • View payment schedules
    • View and amend your advertising*
    • Approve your Yellow Pages adverts before publication**
    • You will be able to view how your advertising is performing
    if you have taken advantage of one of Yell’s monitoring solutions

    * Yell.com & 118 24 7 adverts can be amended as many times as you require
    while your advert is live.
    NB Not all Yell products can be updated and not all via Yell Direct
    ** Yellow Pages adverts can be amended as many times as you require until
    the final amendment date.

    ******************************************************************

    5 DAYS LATER NOT 48 HOURS

    i found the name of the customer that owned the add on yell as yell sent me back 5 days later a reply in wait for it not my name but the owners name (i know this as i know the person who is the owner just pissed of the was doing what he was doing to hide a real review not a lie )

    REPLY EMAIL
    *********************************************************************
    Dear Mr. L^^*& P&^%$£*&*,

    Thank you for your email.

    I am sorry to hear of the problems you have encountered.

    Your email has now been passed to the relevant team and they will be in
    contact with you regarding this matter.

    Should you have any further queries please do not hesitate to call our
    Customer Service team on 0800 555 444.

    Kind Regards,
    Swapna Billa
    Customer Services
    Tel: 0800 555 444
    service@yellgroup.com
    Manage your Yell advertising online at http://marketing.yell.com

    *********************************************************************
    So i called 5 days later as nothing had been done and was told they will look in to this they called me back and said there will look see if ip number is same as 4 reviews all same time same date posted on said site for a review and if same ip number they will have have them taken off line, 10 days later i made another online complaint as i did not get email or call back to say the out come and the reviews were still there then i got a reply email with in 5 mins from my next complain odd how first email has now changed and at 0300 i would think not like me yell staff would be in bed and computers were now doing what they do.

    REPLY EMAIL AFTER NUMBER TWO COMPLAINT
    OH and yell had been woken up about this so were NOW ready

    ********************************************************************
    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Thank you for your email.

    After investigating the review associated with your Yell.com listing I’m
    writing to inform you that we will not be removing this Review as the
    behaviour does not breach our Conditions of Use.

    We encourage our users to provide honest, accurate feedback of their
    experiences of the businesses they use. If they have had a bad experience
    they are welcome to use TrustedPlaces by Yell as a platform to discuss
    this.
    We also encourage the business owners to interact with their customers
    asking for positive feedback to put onto reviews section of Yell.com

    If you would like more information, you can see our Conditions of Use
    here – http://www.yell.com/legal/home.html
    And our business owner FAQs here -
    http://www.yell.com/reviews/causes/businessowner

    *********************************************************************

  • Sarah

    Good for the construction company! I wish the owner the best and couldn’t care less whether he stole jewelry or not, not my business. I am sick and tired of people who hide behind “Free Speech” as a reason for spouting outright lies and defamatory remarks about businesses. Most are too cowardly to speak up when receiving service, or will lie and state that everything is great and then type up all sorts of evils that supposedly took place during their visit.

    Personally, I think Yelp should be shut down entirely. Yelp rewards companies who pay their ridiculous $300+ a month fees by filtering negative reviews and leaving intact the positive (regardless of merit) and punishes businesses who refuse to pay by doing the opposite.

    Filtering systems are not new to the internet. Keys words and phrases that would be filtered by the most lenient parental controls are allowed through Yelp (based on how they feel about a business), whereas legit reviewers who have dozens or hundred of reviews posted will have their opinions erased based on the whims of kids operating out of the California office. Check Yelp’s own Yelp profile and you will see young, immature looking partiers… These are the people responsible for a business’ reputation?

  • Sarah

    BTW – How does someone prove that they DIDN’T steal something??? SMH

    • http://www.webpronews.com/author/chris-crum Chris Crum

      Good point. I suppose it’s really more about a lack of proof that he did.

  • http://www.bestdressedbridalandlinens.com Michelle

    Absolutely NOT. She should not get to post whatever she wants regardless if it free speech. I have had people give me bad reviews for really dumb stuff and it does hurt your business. People are going to believe the bad no matter if the business posts a comment in their defense. If the courts decide the business was at fault then yes, people should be alerted, but not because of some person’s notion or accusations or PMS.

  • troy

    I think this is ok so long as it is truthful. The problem is that when it is not truthful, the cost of litigation and the time it takes to file suit, one’s reputation can be destroyed in that short period of time. I know people who review their competitors and write negative things about them, this is not right, but they are getting away with it and this is an example that is really happening that is not fair and should be stopped but who’s to stop them? They don’t have the cash to hire the attorney to stop it. Their businesses are suffering and with less money in there is a sure no win on having extra cash to sue. This is when it is wrong. In a perfect world, it is cool to think that everyone is playing fairly and just, but are we living in a cool world? considering we are still at war, i would venture to say, NOT!

  • Tom Duffy

    I had a woman give us a very negative libelous review who wasn’t even our customer. She and her husband were dealing with a contractor who was buying product from us, in the meantime they got divorced she didn’t want the product (which she already had) so she went after the contractor.
    When that didn’t work she came after us, we told her we would take back the product but we have a 20% restocking fee and we don’t refund shipping. She said she didn’t care and she would not pay anything, she tried to sue us (unsuccessfully) and wrote a review where she called us rip-offs, fraud and blackmailers. Remember she’s not really our customer.
    Any crazy can ruin a company’s reputation and disappear with no recourse. I looked at our Yelp review and they have her review and one other. They have “Filtered” three really nice reviews, so all you really see it this woman’s trash. They say that they have some sort of filtering to keep the reviews honest but if you read about Yelp this is not the case. Also if they’re not libel for what anyone posts how do they do this and get to censor what goes there too.

  • http://dgswilson.com Doug Wilson

    Had to, because, “Dietz was the only one with the key.”

    I’ve heard of a couple cases where people with no keys stole things

    … find guilty on babble charge

  • http://www.presentings.org GMC

    People are still failing to see that all of this has nothing to do with Yelp or really review sites or even the Web network.

    Freedom of speech is freedom of speech, whether online, in a college cafeteria, a local pub, a mothers club meeting, wherever, whatever.

    What was said about Dietz could have been said anywhere, anyhow, and it may be defamatory or not. The internet CHANGES NOTHING about the basic truths of human life. These things are said anyway, all over the place, in parties, in cars, at nights out etceter. The Web network is just a means of communicating, where people communicate anyway. The only thing it makes a difference to is that evidentiary problems are less likely if something is to go to court. That only means, as things are recorded, it’s harder for someone who did say “x” to get away with claiming, “I didn’t say x”.

    It’s like the very sad Amanda Knox situation, where a gang of bullies, a lynch mob, really, hounded the young girl to her death by suidcide, egging her on to commit suicide, making no bones about it.

    That had nothing to do with the virtues or vices of Facebook. Facebook wasn’t relevant when the lynch mob beat her up in real life, and Facebook wasn’t really relevant when they later posted messages telling her to kill herself. They did it anyway, Facebook or no Facebook. Facebook is just a blank noticeboard and isn’t anything to do with responsibility for what people put on it. That’s up to them. And crime is still crime. Hate crimes are still hate crimes. Defamation – nothing new, and which happens anyway, just less widely known about – is still defamation.

    The internet, Yelp and review sites are as relevant to this kind of thing as the availability of writing paper or making your voice louder coaching sessions. They’re all totally irrelevant in themselves to vices they may be thought to “aid”.

  • http://www.drjeannettekavanagh.com Jeannette Kavanagh

    Happy New Year.

    That said, I’m happy that some people take the simplistic view that ‘freedom of speech is freedom of speech’. Sure. But freedom of speech has limitations the most obvious one being inciting racial hatred. In this rather banal situation, a woman’s jewellery may have gone missing. It may have been stolen by the naughty builder or it (a) may never have existed, (b) may have been nicked by someone else or (c) may have been deliberately mislaid as an insurance scam.

    It really is a worry if the woman with the jewellery which is allegedly missing can simply, under the guise of ‘free speech’ accuse someone of stealing it. It’s even more of a worry that without any proof whatsoever, she can publish her accusation worldwide. As if that’s not cause for concern, there are troops of public-minded people protecting her right to make unsubstantiated accusations and have them published. Why? Because she’s (somehow) upholding free speech.

    She hasn’t just gone to the local police station with her venomous accusations. It’s all over the www. Here in the blistering heat in Melbourne Australia – where is that promised cool change – my mind is melting. So I’ll happily get involved in this….I was going to call it a storm in a teacup but with the world damning the builders it’s more than that.

  • http://www.bursayanginsondurme.com/ brsyng

    Yangın söndürme ve güvenlik sistemleri alanlarında sizlere kaliteli ve profesyonel hizmetler sunmaya devam ediyoruz. Firmamızın isim ve adresini fihristinize alarak,ihtiyacınız olduğunda bizi aramanızı ve teklif almanızı memnuniyetle bekleriz…

  • http://www.onmymobile.nl Marcellino Bommezijn

    Certainly not. Should be removed and she even should apoligize in a review for the fact that she accuses them of theft which she can’t prove. Innocent until proven guilty!

  • http://mfford.com mike

    Courts got it right. TRUTHFULL free speech is critical to a free society. It also benefits businesses and consumrrs alike. The one caveat is that it be honest. There should also always be a place for the criticized vendor to respond in.

  • Lin

    Isn’t it a free country? Some companies are very bad with their customers and their potential clients have a right to know about it.

  • colleen

    I agree with TRUTHFUL free speach. Its not fair if a disgrumpled consumer is just being spiteful and trying to hurt a company just because they can. I think people should have a say if a company is truly bad, but I feel it is getting out of hand.

  • scarbrough

    Yelp has trolls. Wierd internet culture. Free speech vs your job. I fire all employees who get bad review. Fake or not. People vs people really. Unamerican vs white trash online. Big business vs small business. We must stop bad. It kills small business. Yelp killed mine cause I did not pay them. Now I am broke.

  • Love Yelp

    I think Dietz is extremely shortsighted. Who would hire a guy who could sue you for a bad review?

  • UK

    In my opinion, this lawsuit is an outrage. Contractors have homeowners at a huge information disadvantage and almost always abuse the imbalance of power.

    Consumers sharing their experiences with each other is the only counterweight we have, is a vitally important protection and should be held sacrosanct no matter what.

  • Dan

    outrageous. shame on dietz development. i think he deserves to go bankrupt

    what ever happened “do right by the customer no matter what?”