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Crossing The Line-Who Decides?

(Posted on Feb 10, 2014 at 12:50PM )
The first part of this discussion covers online product reviews and the second part touches on a subject that we don’t hear much about but is an important topic that by its very nature is controversial but never the less must be discussed  and certainly one that I and probably many of you have strong feelings about.

In the past if you criticized a person or business while talking with friends and colleagues, it went “no further than who was within ear shot of you.

Now, if you post a comment or do a bad review your comments are available across the online digital spectrum for millions of people to read.

The first part of this discussion concerns lawsuits regarding online reviews and comments which have become more and more common. Many of these lawsuits are often referred to as Slapp Lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)

Slapp lawsuits refer to meritless defamation suits filed by businesses or government officials against citizens who speak out against them. The plaintiffs are not necessarily expecting to succeed and most do not but rather are intended to intimidate critics who are inclined to back down when faced with the prospect of a long, expensive court battle.

Jeremy Gin, CEO of SiteJabber a review site for online businesses stated that these types of lawsuits are dangerous because they interfere with free speech and lessen the value that online reviews provide to consumers when they are searching for service providers or businesses. His fear is that such lawsuits would lead to fewer authentic customer reviews thereby providing less value to consumers. 

If you plan to post reviews online, Gin offers three tips to make sure your reviews don't result in a lawsuit -- or, at least, a lawsuit that you'll lose.

1.       Tell the truth. "If you tell the truth and you're honest with your experience, you should not be held liable" said Gin.

2.       Write to help other consumers. Gin suggests that you write your review to help other customers avoid the same fate rather than posting an angry diatribe against the company.

3.       Cool off before you start typing. Finally, just like you should have a cooling off period before sending an angry email at work, walk around for 15 minutes and cool off before posting your review to make sure you don't let your anger cloud the facts surrounding your problem.

He goes on to say that if you're a business there are better ways to handle negative online complaints. Obviously, responding to the criticism online won't remove it, but for businesses that do care about their customers responses the response may be perceived as genuine and legitimate. And filing for a lawsuit to silence a critical review? Well, that can most definitely backfire. In fact, it generally results in more negative exposure.

The second part of this discussion is that aside from online product reviews there is the subject of just voicing ideas and opinions by posting comments and blogs. The big question here is if no law has been broken does anyone have the right to decide if your comment or blog is published just based on what they personally think is appropriate or not appropriate or should it be left up to the readers themselves to decide by just ignoring or leaving their personal comments to let their position be known. This question brings up what could be a very slippery slope with overtones of censorship a word that I am at total odds with.

 In your opinion, at what point has the line been crossed concerning 1. online reviews and 2. just voicing views and opinions and what should be done to resolve these situations?

William Cosgrove

Bill Cosgrove Straight Talk