Contractors Lining Up Against Free Speech

from the tragic dept

I've recently been dealing with some building contractors over some work, and the process is no fun at all. Finding someone you can trust is a pretty harrowing experience, because if you pick wrong, the consequences can be huge. Online review sites, like Yelp, have actually been tremendously helpful, even if you know to take reviews with a grain of salt (in both directions). At the very least, they provide some good fodder for understanding strengths and weaknesses. Recently, we wrote about a case in Virginia, in which a contractor named Christopher Dietz took a woman, Jane Perez, to court for $750,000 because she wrote negative reviews about him on Yelp and Angie's List. A lower court had initially told Perez to change her reviews, but the Virginia Supreme Court overturned that, saying that it could not require changes under the 1st Amendment until a full hearing was held on whether or not the content was defamatory.

It's worth noting that Perez only posted her negative reviews after Dietz had already sued her in small claims court, a case that was dismissed (some of the defamation claim concerns Dietz disagreeing with how Perez described the end result of that court case in her reviews). Dietz has also suggested during a video interview on MSNBC that he wanted to go after both Yelp and Angie's List, and that they shouldn't hide behind Section 230 of the CDA. At this point, it would appear that Dietz either does not understand or underestimates the power of the Streisand Effect as well as the importance of free speech and the importance of secondary liability protection for service providers. It's a trifecta!

Perez has pro bono legal help from Public Citizen and the ACLU, but there are still substantial legal costs that she needs to cover. To help pay for it, she's put up an IndieGoGo campaign in which she notes that some comments on a popular site for home builders suggest that an association for home builders may be backing Dietz's lawsuit. The site in question does have a running update on the case, which includes one post where a spokesperson for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry claims that they "support [Chris Dietz] in the quest to right this wrong" and that the organization is "reviewing the case and will determine next steps." It's not clear if this means that NARI is actually financially supporting Dietz's lawsuit, but either way, "supporting" Dietz's misguided lawsuit still doesn't seem like a particularly smart stance, for reasons we'll get to below. NARI could do a lot more good for contractors by teaching them how to properly deal with negative reviews.

That same page includes a couple different reports from other contractors, insisting that contractors need to support Dietz and stop this scourge of people saying bad stuff about them. There's one post that insists the lawsuit is a good thing, saying it will take a "perfect storm" to lose (unlikely), while also mocking review sites claiming most of his customers have never heard of them. Then there's another one that mocks both review sites and the ACLU for daring to think that this was an important case.

I can certainly understand why contractors are upset about negative reviews -- just as lots of other businesses are worried about negative reviews. It's no secret that not all reviews are accurate, and it really does suck, emotionally, to see a negative review that's not true. But there are ways to deal with negative reviews that don't make the situation worse. Jumping straight to defamation lawsuits generally are the opposite of that. They do make the situation worse. SearchEngineLand has a great post in response to this very case, in which they point out that there are much better ways to deal with negative reviews online. Suing only creates news about those negative reviews -- and having it become widely public news that you sued a customer about their negative review seems likely to have a lot more damaging impact on a business than those negative reviews might have had in the first place.

Yes, we live in a legalistic society, where it is the first response of many people to "go legal" when they feel wronged, but in a world where information is widely available, there are often much better ways to respond to "negative" information than going legal. If these contractors really wanted to "support" Dietz, they should encourage more of their colleagues to read the SearchEngineLand article, rather than supporting a dangerous lawsuit that could undermine key principles of free speech or secondary liability.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 12:09pm

    Things like Angie's List exist because there is a need for them. If all contractors were ethical and competent there would be no need for services like this, and they would not be so massively successful.

    I suppose it is a natural reaction for other contractors and contractor organizations to support Dietz. However, competent and ethical contractors should avoid the knee-jerk reaction of supporting a fellow contractor. Professional organizations should also have caution. Things like Angie's List and Yelp are one way to reign in the scam artists, the incompetent, and the unethical. Yes, good contractors are occasionally going to get bad reviews. But on balance the truth is going to come through and the bad contractors are going to suffer from reviews much more than the good ones.

     

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

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 12:54pm

    It baffles me that companies who do this have no clue on the stain they are willingly spilling on themselves, and the red wine variety, no less

     

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

  3.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 1:00pm

    Contractor

    Do good work... period... end of story. If your client is not satisfied, bend over backwards to make them happy. They will be your best advertising.

    Piss them off and well, you get slammed. Treat them wrong and you get what you deserve.

    There is nothing more satisfying then getting a call from someone saying they called you because such and such recommended you. It is a cascading effect that can make you rich, and get you a lot of loyal clients.

    Personally, i used to love to hear how bad someone was before me. Just provides the chance to shine even brighter.

     

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

  4.  
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    GreenPirate (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 1:02pm

    Re:

    Great point. A single person's review should not be censored imo, unless it is outright slanderous. "This guy molests animals."


    So why is it ok for the services to censor people but not the contractor?

    Yelp and similar services that filter reviews are already censoring free speech and altering the way a business is portrayed.

    For example, my girlfriend's business has received several 5 star reviews from her clients via Yelp, yet Yelp filters those reviews for whatever reason.

    The one 4 star review is all they will display. If 9 out of 10 reviews are 5 stars it would speak differently than displaying a single 4 star review.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Contractor

    My father was a general contractor for years. You wouldn't believe the number of times people came in, after the project was done and didn't like it.

    Sorry, but a good contractor does what he's hired to do, just because you specified a light pink toilet in your bathroom does not mean you get to change it at his cost after the fact.

     

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

  6.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 1:22pm

    Re: Re: Contractor

    And a good contractor will have the people skills to present that in a way that does not insult them but explained in a way that will make them understand. Not just oh well you signed a contract. There is more to it then just abiding by contracts.

    Also not including them in on every step of the way to sign off on the work is not a good practice. Why wait until it is finished? Paint half of that wall the horrible color your homeowner picked out and have them look at it.

    I did it for many years in areas that are very snobby. (Bala Cynwyd, Gladwyne, Ardmore. Very very rich areas of PA.

    There are many times that I did work for cost to keep clients happy. Its just the cost of doing business. Sorry but I wanted my clients to tell their neighbors in their million dollar houses about me. The next time they call just tell them you cant do it.

    I was lucky enough to have worked for a master plumber that had amazing people skills and really taught me a lot about customer service. Profits are second, quality and a happy customer always always always comes first. Follow that and profits will follow.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Contractor

    Quote:
    "Also not including them in on every step of the way to sign off on the work is not a good practice. Why wait until it is finished? Paint half of that wall the horrible color your homeowner picked out and have them look at it."


    Why paint at all, you have 3D software that could render the result without wasting any materials.

     

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  8.  
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    Arthur (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 1:42pm

    Happened to me

    I had an absolutely horrible experience with a contractor. I wrote up the experience on Angie's List.

    I was hounded and hounded by the contractor who finally took me to small claims court. Warning others via Angie's List is just not worth the harassment. I just told Angie's List to remove my comment and I don't use Angie's List any more.

     

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  9.  
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    Mr. Applegate, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: Contractor

    While I don't disagree with what you are saying in principal there is another set of rules that most successful business people follow and they are based on real life.

    1. The customer is always right.
    2. If the Customer is wrong, see rule 1.

    It really is that simple.

    Sure you have unreasonable customers that you can't please. More often than not if you truly do a good job and explain why you can't eat that light pink toilet, but you will replace it your cost, then you will have done your job well and the customer will be happy (maybe not at that moment, but when they look back a week or two later).

    Just out of high school about a thousand years ago I worked construction and the guy I worked for always worked with the customer and rarely had a customer that was pissed when he left. He built in a certain amount of money into the bid to cover the customer complaints changes..., and if they were happy and no complaints he discounted the job at the end. Everybody won.

     

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  10.  
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    Mr. Applegate, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Happened to me

    " Warning others via Angie's List is just not worth the harassment."

    So if you were really wronged by the contractor you should have filed a counter claim. By allowing yourself to be intimidated you virtually ensured the contractor would screw others, you still ended up with a mess and got nothing for it.

    Personally I would welcome the lawsuit, file a counter claim and let the chips fall where they will. Who knows if you were truly wronged you could have ended up with 5 Grand in your pocket for the trouble.

     

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

  11.  
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    Some Other AC (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Contractor

    "1. The customer is always right.
    2. If the Customer is wrong, see rule 1.

    It really is that simple."

    As a former retail employee(a majority of which was in management), this is not really a truth. A better way to approach it is, "The customer must always be satisfied."
    I worked for two of the 4 major Wireless providers as well as a medium size mobile electronics retailer/installer. There were many times the customer was dead wrong, but we did not directly point this out. We educated the customer, showed them their options and alternatives, and then let them come to the conclusion that they were indeed wrong. In most cases this resulted in a satisfied customer(even if they ultimately returned products/cancelled services). They walked out knowing that we did everything in our abilities to resolve the issue.
    However, and i say this also working in the IT industry now, the customer is not always right. That mentality causes more issues for the service/product provider.

     

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

  12.  
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    Arthur (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 2:50pm

    Re: Re: Happened to me

    Well, it was a bit more complex - with Angie's List being part of the problem. There are some battles that aren't worth it.

     

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

  13.  
    identicon
    coward (anon), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 3:11pm

    Scum

    Has anyone seen "Holmes on Homes" or "Holmes Inspection" on HGTV/DIY? They are 2 entire shows based on the premise that there are a lot of really scuzzy contractors out there that not only do shoddy work but actually endanger lives. My favorite was when they discovered the previous contractor had taped the electrical line to the gas line so the wire would stay in the basement ceiling.

    Having had a lot of contract work done on my home, there are a lot of really good contractors out there. The problem is there are even more who are just looking for a quick buck. The NARI would be far better served by helping to pass rules and laws to weed out the bad apples instead of suing homeowners.

     

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

  14.  
    identicon
    dese1ect, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 5:16pm

    I think most people know to take bad reviews with a grain of salt. Not everyone is going to be satisfied 100% of the time, no matter how hard you try. However if the majority of reviews for one business is bad, I wouldn't go near it. I use Yelp and Google Local (which is like Yelp) to find businesses when I travel or to find places I haven't been to before. Both services probably have brought my business to hundreds of small businesses over the past 5 years, places I wouldn't know about without them. Why bring national attention to a legal dispute with a client who claims you did bad work by suing them? Isn't he tarnishing his own reputation further? No one is going to remember if he won or lost, just that he sued a customer who was adamant about the poor quality of work he did.

    This case interests me though because Perez has posted photos and documents (including police report and insurance adjustment for the theft) at public citizen's website. On top of this it looks like he's been accused of the same bad / unfinished work before by other clients (again court documents posted at public citizen) and not paying his employees. Before he sued Perez, all anyone knew was that he had 1 unhappy customer, now people see a trend and all his dirty laundry will eventually be aired out for the paying public. This is definitely a cautionary tale or how not to respond to online criticism. It would be better to encourage happy customers to leave good reviews, even by offering discounts, then to highlight to the world one bad review. He further looks like the bad guy when the lady is a military vet on disability who needs assistance to pay for legal defense.

     

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  15.  
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    artp (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 6:39pm

    Not surprising

    Because even if the contractor does a bad job (like the one who started demolishing my chimney from the bottom up) you have to give them a chance to correct the problem. You can't fire them and hire someone else who MAY be competent. You can't withhold payment for work that wasn't done right. You have to let them mess up AGAIN! That's what the law says.

    And for the person who claims that contractors have to put up with people who complain after the contractor did what was asked for - I have NEVER had a contractor do what I asked for. Not as a private home owner, not as a Data Center Manager, not as a project manager for large corporations. Contractors do one thing one way and that is how they make their money. It takes time to figure out something different. Doing something different costs them money. It ain't gonna happen.

     

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

  16.  
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    JMT (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 8:26pm

    Re: Re: Contractor

    "My father was a general contractor for years. You wouldn't believe the number of times people came in, after the project was done and didn't like it."

    Your comment leaves you father open to ridicule. You make it sound like he had many unsatisfied customers. Maybe that's not what you meant but that's what you wrote.

    "Sorry, but a good contractor does what he's hired to do..."

    I'm confused. Weneedhelp said a contractor should "Do good work... period... end of story", and you imply that's wrong and claim "a good contractor does what he's hired to do". How are these two things different? Who hires someone to not do a good job?

    "...just because you specified a light pink toilet in your bathroom does not mean you get to change it at his cost after the fact."

    If a contractor accepts a change like that at his own cost he's a terrible businessman and won't last long. This example does not help whatever point you were trying to make.

     

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

  17.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 1:08am

    Re: Re:

    It's okay for the services (from a legal standpoint) to censor THEIR OWN services. The contractors do not have, nor should they, this power.

    The question about the first amendment and censorship was limited to the COURTS order to force the woman to censor her self.

     

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

  18.  
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    nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Contractor

    The OP began "My father was a general contractor for years..." which implied it was years ago, possible pre-internet/home PC.

    So painting half the wall would have been the best you can do.

    Anyway the clue here was demonstrating people skills and forethought - which doesn't require a specific tool.

     

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

  19.  
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    nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Contractor

    You really deserve a lightbulb for this post! It's not about who's right/wrong - it's about meeting a level of satisfaction - for both parties.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    chris furney, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 7:14am

    contracting

    I'm almost laughing about the dirt that gets smeared on honest guys by the craigslist commandos types. Here's a good one- two of the help i hired came back another day after i fired one of them, ambushed me, and knifed me in the heart. While i was recovering, i let the lisence lapse. What's a dead man need a contractor's lisence for? So I was getting started again and ran an ad while getting the lisence back together- after open heart surgery. Allow me to say- I've been contracting for some 38 years, and my family for generations. I have spome 8 fulltime years of college in the field.
    So chickie babe tells me all about how im a lying thief because i hadn't redone the license yet. CCB writes me a ticket because i told whoever the anonymous coward is that talks this trash to remove her lies or i'd sue, etc. Really I'm more of a do-it-yourselfer (smile). Make sure you stay under your rock, coward.
    This is for the privilege of working what's left of my body into agony routinely, trying to keep a businesslike face against the pain, sent into filthy diseased messes with lies so im the one who gets sick from their filth instead of the tenants having to clean up after their own filth. To get parasites from their animals that they lied about having- too late. So I get to listen to able bodied young men whine about how hard the work is, when a 53 year old cripple has been running circles around them all day. And go home and lie in bed in agony while the surrounding people scheme how to replace me with one of these idiots (haha). While they plot between themselves how to lie and cheat and murder me to steal what "I'VE" been working for the last 38 years. And of course there is no such thing as a family unit anymore- everyone else knows all about how I should have raised my sons. No help there- or any expected.
    Well, my first contractor's lisence cost me 25 bucks and was done long before all these whining idiots were ever born. Everyone has made such a nasty, paperwork and cost ridden mess out of my family's ancestral way to make a living- YOU CAN KEEP IT. It really isn't worth 25 bucks an hour to hurt myself or get murdered by the filth im forced to associate with, while all the time the cops and the lawyer ask how I get in trouble so much. I get in trouble so much because other people make it, same as their filth- I'm forced to defend myself to survive, and it doesn't seem to dawn on these people that this might entail a bit more exposure than someone who goes home after the 9 to 5. And I'm sick of spending an hour of prep time for every hour of work and having some Asian yammer about how that's too much money. Try tripling it for openers.
    Wallow in it and enjoy it, folks. And the next time you get ripped off no matter which way you turn, remember that it's the punks and the cops both who have left you in that mess. And don't bother calling me. I'm retired.

     

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

  21.  
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    jsf (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 7:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Contractor


    "I'm confused. Weneedhelp said a contractor should "Do good work... period... end of story", and you imply that's wrong and claim "a good contractor does what he's hired to do". How are these two things different? Who hires someone to not do a good job?"


    Actually a lot of contractors are hired by people who want a cheap job. Quality comes in second at best in many, many cases.

     

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

  22.  
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    JustMe (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 8:12am

    So let me understand this

    If I hire Christopher Dietz to perform remodeling, I can get sued because there is a possibility that he might not complete the work properly? Gee, I would not want Christopher Dietz to sue me simply because he may not have completed the work to the customer's satisfaction. In fact, it seems like Christopher Dietz suing a previous customer in small claims court, and then in the Virginia Supreme Court about possibly shoddy workmanship is a bad thing. If this is true, then I should make a note to never hire Christopher Dietz because he could sue me after possibly not completing the work that he was contracted to perform to the customer's satisfaction. Lesson learned. I have never hired contractor and remodeler Christopher Dietz, but, had I hired him and then found that he sued me, I WOULD NEVER HIRE Christopher Dietz AGAIN.

     

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

  23.  
    identicon
    Marco Janick, Feb 6th, 2013 @ 3:36am

    Great post! I appreciate your views.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    chimneycleaningct, Apr 21st, 2013 @ 8:57pm

    Chimney cleaning ct

    The use of chimney reduce your stress by a very hot column involving petrol to create a draught along with sketch oxygen above the very hot coals or maybe wood enabling extended combustion.

     

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

  25.  
    identicon
    ctchimney, May 13th, 2013 @ 8:06am

    CT Chimney Sweep

    Hello,you all guys done a good job by publishing this article.Keep it up.

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    ctchimney, May 13th, 2013 @ 8:35am

    CT chimney cleaning

    Hello,you all guys done a good job by publishing this article.Keep it up.

     

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

  27.  
    identicon
    ERICK STEPHENS, May 24th, 2013 @ 2:55pm

    B&L PAINTING, AMESBURY MASS.

    IM A POLICE OFFICER IN A COASTAL TOWN OUTSIDE OF BOSTON MASS.WE HIRED B&L PAINTING OUT OF AMESBURY MASS. BILL THE OWNER IS A CON MAN OF GALACTIC PROPORTIONS,AND AFTER THE FIRST FEW DAYSVIT WAS OBVIOUS THAT HE IS ALSO A COMPOLSIVE LIER.HE HAD 3GUYS WORKING FOR HIM THAT DID A FANTASTIC JOB FOR THE MOSTPART,BUT BILLY THE OWNER IS THE WORST PAINTER IVE EVER SEEN.HE LEAVES HIS PAINT BUCKETS OPEN ALL NIGHT SO HE GETS CHUNKS OF PAINT ON THE WALLS,HE MAKES MISTAKES AND BLAMES THE HELP.HE IS SO LOUD AND RUDE ITS UNREAL.HE REFUSES TO USE 2COATS OF PAINT ON ANYTHING.HE LIED ABOUT THE PRICE OF THE JOB,HE STOLE THINGS OUT OF THE HOUSE,WE CAUGHT HIM IN THE VACANT HOUSE ON A FRIDAY WITH A HOOKER THAT I PERSONALY HAVE ARRESTED SEVERAL TIMES.HE WAS SMOKEING CRACK IN MY VACANT HOUSE,DRINKING,HE LEFT PORN MAGASINES IN MY BATHROOM,AND HE EVEN ASKED ME IF HE COULD BORROW $1000 TO PAY HIS RENT.HE EATS OUR FOOD,WE CAME THERE ONE NIGHT AND HE WAS COOKING HIS HOOKER GIRLFRIEND A STEAK DINNER COMPLIMENTS OF ME AND MY WIFE.THATS WHEN I FIRED BILL,B&L PAINTING AMESBURY MASS.IS BY FAR THE WORST CONTRACTOR IVE EVER WITNESSED.BEING A COP IVE SEEN MANY BAD CONTRACTORS,BUT B&L PAINTING IS BYFAR THE WORST

     

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

  28.  
    identicon
    RICHARD KENT, May 24th, 2013 @ 3:08pm

    B&L PAINTING AMESBURY MASS

    HOW IRONIC,I JUST FIRED B&L PAINTING AND WAS LOOKING FOR A WEBSIGHT TO WARN OTHER HOMEOWNERS ABOUT THEM.THE OWNER BILL IS AN ASS ALL ACROSS THE BOARD. USUALY I FEEL SORY FOR PEOPLE WITH BI POLAR DISEASE,BUT ITS JUST NOT POSSIBLE TO FEEL ANY PITY ON A GUY LIKE BILL.HE'S LOUD RUDE,VERY MEAN TO HIS EMPLOYEES WHOM ARE CLEARLY THE ONLY REASON WHY THIS JERK EVEN GETS JOBS DONE.ID WITNESS HIM MAKE A MISTAKE AND THEN BLAME IT ON HIS EMPLOYEES.HE LIED ABOUT THE PRICE,THE AMOUNT OF COATS HE APPLIED.B&L PAINTING IN AMESBURY MASS.IS A COMPANY YOU WANT TO STAY AWAY FROM IF YOU WANT THE JOB DONE CORRECTLY. BILL THE OWNER IS NOT A GUY YOU WANT IN YOUR HOUSE.

     

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

  29.  
    identicon
    ctchimney, Jun 7th, 2013 @ 8:50am

    Chimney Repair CT

    The use of chimney reduce your stress by a very hot column involving petrol to create a draught along with sketch oxygen above the very hot coals or maybe wood enabling extended combustion.

     

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

  30.  
    identicon
    ctchimney, Jun 12th, 2013 @ 6:41am

    Chimney cleaning CT

    The use of chimney reduce your stress by a very hot column involving petrol to create a draught along with sketch oxygen above the very hot coals or maybe wood enabling extended combustion.

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    ctchimney, Jun 14th, 2013 @ 12:46am

    chimney repair ct

    The use of chimney reduce your stress by a very hot column involving petrol to create a draught along with sketch oxygen above the very hot coals or maybe wood enabling extended combustion.

     

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


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