Monday, January 12, 2009

San Francisco Man Sued for Bad Review on Yelp.com

One of the first things I did after moving to San Francisco six years ago was go onto Yelp.com to check out the reviews of my surroundings. I looked up reviews on local restaurants, doctors, supermarkets, hair stylists, stores and tourist attractions. I can remember that I needed to see a dentist and was so new to the city that I had no one to ask. I looked at the reviews on Yelp and chose one that was in my area. I connected with what people were saying about the "gentle dentist." After I went to my dentist appointment, I wasn't disappointed and was so happy that I had found Yelp's user reviews.

After living in the city and meeting people that were also new to the city I would recommend Yelp as a great tool to get to know the city. I recommended Yelp for the open honest feedback from the users. You can make up your own mind from what people are saying. Whether the review was positive or negative no one on Yelp was censoring what they had to say.

I have also wondered about the Yelp negative reviews. Were the users experiences at the restaurant or pharmacy so horrible that they needed to write and tell everyone not to go there. Would the Yelp user be so honest if they had waited a couple of days before posting their review? Would waiting to review then be a form of censorship? Should we in our Internet community of honesty wonder to ourselves before posting a negative review, can I be sued for sharing my thoughts?

Last week while eating at The Crepe House restaurant on Polk Street, I read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle. The story was about a twenty-six year old San Francisco man being sued by a chiropractor because of the two negative reviews that he wrote and posted on Yelp. Christopher's six paragraph review of the chiropractor stated that he felt that he didn't like the billing process and that the doctor was being dishonest with the insurance companies. The doctor contacted Christopher and asked him to delete his review as it was effecting his business negatively. Christopher's second review said that he felt that the doctor was harassing him into removing his review and that he wouldn't be pressured to remove it.

The doctor is now suing Christopher for libel and invasion of privacy and if the case isn't settled then the trial is set to go before the San Francisco Superior Court in March. Christopher has turned to the social websites Facebook, MySpace to raise awareness and money for his defense. He also started the website standforspeech.com .

Yelp's spoke person said that the doctor had also received many positive reviews and suing over this negative reviews only brought attention to the negativity. Can you imagine going to see this chiropractor after hearing about this case? I would be concerned that if I didn't like his service and posted about it then I too could be sued for expressing my opinion.

I believe that it can be a very slippery slope when we start censoring ourselves. I am able to express how I feel and if readers like it or don't like it they make the choice to read on, visit again or comment on it. If more and more cases like this are pursued, could a time come when I sit down at the computer to write to you and I have to censor my thoughts and feelings? How is it different from what Christopher wrote to what a friend of mine wrote on Yelp that she didn't like the Chinese food place that she recently ordered from. She wrote on her review on Yelp that she would never order from there again and questioned the kitchen cleanliness and operation of the restaurant. Is she too in jeopardy of going to court?

Should we censor the Internet like we censor movies? How do you feel about this case? Do you side with Christopher or with the chiropractor?
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13 comments:

La Belette Rouge said...

Hey, I have been to the crepe house and I have also been to Bob's doughnuts down the street from there. I love that neighborhood.

I think it is ridiculous for the chiropractor to sue. I am sure that Christopher will prevail and the chiropractor will lose customers. I certainly would quit going to him.

Laura said...

Oh La Belette we must meet next time at The Crepe House. I am sure this case will get settled before it goes to court. But what if it doesn't?

Georgie B said...

I side with Christopher, as long as his review is honest and legit.

Too often, someone will make a false complaint just because they were unhappy with the way something went (like insurance billing, which can be a bit nightmarish sometines). Let's hope that this isn't the case here.

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub said...

You know this is can happen on blogs too... I can't remember for sure who's site it was on 3 months ago(I ha just started blogging, so it is all a haze) but I think it was on Mcmommy Chronicles or Cheaper Than Therapy.... the blogger had posted about a local dentist that she was having major billing issues with and she was sent a cease and desist letter by his lawyers and she felt she had to go back and take his name out everywhere she had mentioned it. Not sure how it ended up being resolved but she was just being truthful in her dealings with the guy and he basically bullied her into not complaining about him by name on her blog.

I agree it is a fine line... and once a court decides against the free speech, well, we are all screwed! Social media online would be done for.
Sorry for the extra long comment, but I feel really strongly about this, too. Free speech is free speech is free speech. :)

Janie said...

Free speech is just that. And we need to retain that right.

Underfunded Heiress said...

Yelp is the best. I always look up a restaurant on that site before I go. It is so helpful.

Laura said...

I completely agree with you all. We need to feel comfortable in what we write. The only way I can see censorship ever working is by using the movie ratings. I'll write more if I hear more about the case.

Amy thank you for your comment. I think we need to be geared up so we retain our rights.

So@24 said...

San Fran folk LOVE their crepes. I don't get it.

Also, you're a digger?? I'm impressed!

bernthis said...

unbelievable. I'm on Yelp. How scary. It's total censorship and the Dr. was an idiot for continuing to harp on the issue but sadly it will make me think twice about what I'm saying

Laura said...

So@24: I love crepes how can you not? I was impressed with your toga story. Glad you stopped by.

bernthis: I totally agree I too will think twice. Love your blog!

Holly said...

i love yelp and can't believe this is happening!
i once left a bad yelp review on a store and the manager emailed me!

Janice said...

Censor the Internet?! That's like an oxymoron. This is America for cryin' out loud! Yelp rocks.

Fancy Schmancy said...

Freedom of speech, all the way. It's what makes our country what it is, for goodness sake!