A single gold star for me

companyThe human race needed to survive so groups of individuals formed organizational units called “companies” that were then used to fuck everyone else. Viola! Stratification, and it was good.

Sure, not everyone survived or ended up better off but that was the whole point, wasn’t it?

Now a Virginia court has given companies just a bit more power. Yeah.

You’ve heard about Yelp? It’s one of the few places where disgruntled customers can strike back when they’ve been wronged.

The war between reviewers and companies is an old one. It turns out that businesses don’t like being criticized. In the old days reviewing was an actual profession and people were hired by newspapers to perform that function. In one case a food critic reported seeing an open can of beans in the kitchen in a restaurant that purported to only use fresh ingredients.

The restaurant flipped their lid.

On one hand the restaurant is protected against defamation, i.e., false and damaging statements. On the other, the reviewer has the right to honestly report the truth about what he sees with his own eyes. So what happens in a situation like this when the parties get so pissed off that the courts are asked to decide? How does the reviewer prove what he saw is true? It quickly becomes a case of he-said, she-said.

Should the business have to prove it has been defamed? Should the reviewer have to prove he is telling the truth? What are the legal standards here and who is going to make those decisions?

In the world of Yelp, of course, we can all play the role of the reviewer. And therein lies the rub. Companies and businesses are really getting pissed off. Mainly because they are so inept and evil that they provide tons of opportunities for that sort of thing. More people than ever are taking to the internet to say, “You suck!”

It seems to me that when a company, business or restaurant gets negative reviews on Yelp there are two ways they can go:

  1. Be appreciative and treat the reviews and comments as invaluable input. And work with the reviewers to grow customer loyalty and continually improve every aspect of your operation. Kaizen!
  2. Become really angry. Hire lawyers and file lawsuits to learn the identities of your anonymous enemies who are obviously out to get you. Get mad, get even and get some some of that sweet tasting revenge! It’s a dish best served cold just like the meals in your restaurant.

It seems to me that just by seeing response #2 we pretty much know what sort of company we’re dealing with.

That’s the route recently taken by Hadeed Carpet Cleaning of Alexandria, Virginia. They went to court to force Yelp to turn over the secret identities of seven reviewers who had written bad things.

I will clean your carpets!

I will clean your carpets!

Thanks to the Court of Appeals of Virginia we now know who these bad guys are: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and, of course, Martian Manhunter.

So much for justice.

United States courts have held that there is a right to anonymous speech. However, like all speech, it can’t be defamatory. But Hadeed Carpet Cleaning didn’t ask the court to consider a defamation argument. Instead, they argued, that since the reviews were anonymous, they couldn’t be certain the reviews came from actual customers. They could have been placed by, gasp, Hadeed’s enemy competitors. (We simply can’t rule out any bad behavior from those bastards.)

Unfortunately the court agreed and Yelp will be forced to unmask our super heroes. What will happen to them? Assuming they are legitimate customers who told the truth about their Hadeed experiences, perhaps not much, except we’ll all know the location of their secret lairs. They may have to relocate.

If there was defamation, no doubt Hadeed will pursue every legal avenue available. They apparently have lots of free time and energy to invest on things besides improving their operation.

See also:

The Atlantic – Court Rules That Yelp Must Unmask the Identities of Seven Anonymous Reviewers

Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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