Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Libel in the Digital Age

It’s a not so brave world out there on the Internet. With digital anonymity people feel free to say anything. Web sites can become little more than junior high playgrounds with innuendo and half-truths passing for fact. What protections, if any do you have? None, as it turns out.

There are a few things any of us are truly good at in life. I have no illusions about my abilities. I am only good at one thing in life: Stand-Up Comedy. Turns out I am also pretty good at teaching certain aspects about this art. Every other month I hold a class in Riffing. Riffing is when the comic talks to the crowd or makes stuff up as they perform. It might seem like a difficult thing to break down into easy to teach tools, but so far I have been able to successfully pass along some of my experience in these classes.

Recently, after one such class a friend e-mailed me a negative review of the class. Hey, the cost of doing business these days is suffering the slings and arrows out there in the ether. But this one caught my eye for a number of reasons. The most obvious, no one with the name they posted the negative review under was in my class. They also got details completely wrong. So wrong that it became pretty apparent this person wasn’t there at all. The got the order of things wrong. The number of people in the class was wrong. They invented a situation that never took place in class too. When I looked at the persons profile I could see that the profile had been set up the same day as my class. It had no other reviews or friends and lacked a photo. All right, it seemed pretty obvious to me that someone had gone out of his or her way to post an incorrect and malicious review. Why? Who knows? People have all kinds of reasons to say shit about other people. What makes it frustrating though is Yelp’s lack of concern. You see, they operate a website that has no way to confirm the I.D. of the person posting the reviews. Because of this it lends itself well to those among us who feel they must strike out under the cover of fake screen names. I thought I would just e-mail Yelp. Surely after reviewing the situation they will remove the fake review. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The first E-mail reply started by telling me they take the removal of any review very seriously. Hey, me too! However, after investigating they have decided to leave the review intact. What investigation? They didn’t contact the venue where I held the class. If they did they could easily confirm that no one under such a name was present and the details they posted varied wildly from other posts about the class. They did suggest I contact the person via Yelp and offer a refund. Thanks for that advice Yelp. Your right. I should pay off some low level blackmailer with money I didn’t accept from them because-They weren’t there!

I replied to the second and the third and finally the last e-mail from their legal department with all the above facts. What did they do? They sent me a quote of the law where they have been granted immunity from libel. In other words, they can legally run a site that effects people’s ability to make money and has the potential to harm reputations with the knowledge that some people will abuse the site and they don’t have to lift a finger when it can be easily proven.

From now on I am going on stage with a T-shirt that simply reads, Yelp can suck my left nut.

I’m not that angry at whatever small dick idiot thought it necessary to give my rep a black eye. I am angry at Yelp for refusing to do anything. They aren’t going to change the site to verify I.D. and they won’t make a simple phone call to check my story. Instead, they are content to offer useless advice (I sent e-mails to the person and yet to get a reply) and passive aggressive corporate speak to cover their lazy asses.

So what did I do?

I posted a bad review of Yelp and their business practices on Yelp. I plan to post more under various names. Hey, its OK to do so. I know nothing will happen to me. I also want to recommend that you do the same thing. Tell them what a bunch of disreputable arrogant people they are. Keep posting. Post under other peoples names with fake profiles if you want. Like I said, the law will apparently protect you but not them.

1 comment:

Chantel said...

McDonald's is one of the highest rated restaurants on Yelp. I deleted my account when McDonald's got more good reviews than a real restaurant.