by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
context, defamation, reviews

Rather Than Calling The Lawyers, Why Those Upset At Bad Online Reviews Should Chill Out

from the there-are-better-responses dept

You may recall that a few months back we were threatened with a libel lawsuit over some comments on a very old blog post. We get similar threats approximately once a month, almost always about someone upset about something someone else said about them in the comments. Of course, we're protected by Section 230 from liability for such comments (though, the commenters themselves are not), but another point that we've suggested to the folks complaining is that immediately filing a defamation lawsuit may not be in their best interests. First, within the comments, they are free to respond and give their side of the story. But, more importantly, the comments in question should be taken in context. Almost always, the complaint is about some totally ridiculous comment, made in the middle of a long thread, by an anonymous commenter. It's not exactly the sort of thing that anyone is likely to take seriously.

Over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo, is making a similar point, in responding to some recent threats made by companies against TripAdvisor and Yelp, over reviews that restaurants and hotels don't like. Manjoo's basic message: chill out and recognize that most people aren't stupid, and that, in context, these particular reviews are unlikely to have much of an impact, because most people are not influenced by a single outlier of a review, but the general sense in all the reviews:
When we scan reviews online, we aren't looking for gothchas--outlandish, one-off tales of awful experiences. Instead, we look for patterns. We make judgments based on the themes that emerge from many reviews, not from the crazy charges that appear in one or two. As such, there's an obvious way for businesses to improve their online standings. Rather than trying to suppress a few negative reviews, they ought to work like mad to offer the kind of service that inspires a whole bunch of positive reviews.
In other words, the one-off disgruntled person isn't likely to have much of an impact anyway, and if the overall theme of all of the reviews is so negative, then it suggests that there is a real problem that you should work on fixing.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2010 @ 4:07pm

    In fact, a complete lack of complaints would make me suspicious that something is rigged.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2010 @ 4:19pm

    I think websites dedicated to reviewing something should all put a "Post removed due to legal action" and maybe even one column stating "level of legal action received from this company".

    Something on those lines so people know what those companies are really like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Will Sizemore (profile), 28 Oct 2010 @ 6:28pm

    I think people need to stop clogging our judicial system complaining about stupid crap that has so little to do with an actual decision to purchase goods or services from a company with poor management and poor advertising.

    If you're successful, people will complain. If no one complains, then you have failed to make an impact and you should close up shop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DanVan (profile), 31 Oct 2010 @ 11:42am

    It makes absolutely no sense to sue people in the comments section A) I think the most extreme comments are seen by others as being crazy to start with B) Most probably gloss over the crazy comments and I doubt anyone takes it seriously C) You bring about 100x more notice to it by filing a suit Everything you dont want gets brought to the public

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yelp Is Dishonest, 12 Nov 2010 @ 9:41am

    Our business has had 5 reviews so far. One is a negative review from a man who is lying about being a client; the other four are very positive. Yelp keeps only the dishonest negative review on our Yelp page, and filters out all positive reviews. Then, after complaining about this, they start hitting me up to set up a "business" account. I will never trust Yelp, again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Content Scraper, 4 Nov 2012 @ 1:37am

    State Supreme Court Hears Online Doctor Rating Defamation Suit

    Excerpted from Star Tribune, September 4, 2012, Maura Lerner

    Two years ago, a Duluth neurologist, Dr. David McKee, sued the son of an elderly patient for defamation over some negative comments that were posted on rate-your-doctor websites.

    On Tuesday, the state's top court was asked to decide whether the lawsuit should finally go to trial, after the case was thrown out by a lower court and reinstated on appeal. The lawsuit is one of a growing number of legal battles testing the limits of free speech on the Internet.

    A good portion of the oral arguments were devoted to the meaning of the words that Dennis Laurion, 65, used to describe his family's encounter with McKee in April, 2010, when Laurion's father, Kenneth, then 84, was hospitalized with a stroke.

    John Kelly, Laurion's attorney, noted that Internet sites are a "free for all" for people to share opinions and that his client's comments were perfectly appropriate. "We have a word, the word 'tool,'" Kelly told the justices. "When you look at the word, you have to ask: Is it defamatory?" He argued that the phrase, while "it clearly is not a compliment," is no worse than "calling someone an idiot or a fool."

    During questioning, some of the justices seemed to agree. "Saying someone's a 'real tool' sounds more like an opinion than a statement of fact," Justice Christopher Dietzen said. Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea had a similar reaction. "The point of the post is, 'This doctor did not treat my father well,'" she said. "I can't grasp why that wouldn't be protected opinion."

    Full Article:

    Comments: m/startribune/posts/527714173921326?comment_id=110848277&offset=0&total_comments=9

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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