In response to Post 2 by John

John brings up some very interesting points in his post that I would like to address, but first, I am going to expand upon my previous comparison of a website like yelp to a newspaper in light of his refutation of my assertion that websites like yelp are beginning to blur the line between an individual’s opinion and a newspaper’s article. Our current legal structures do not seem to contain guidelines on how the courts should view these websites. This is altogether not that surprising; until very recently, such things would have been unable to even exist. What defines the uniqueness of a website like yelp as opposed to what the world had previously seen is basically the vast degree to which it is used. Previously, if someone wanted to tell people that a certain restaurant messed with the food or that a contractor was stealing from a client, there was not really all that much harm they could do. The second rule of libel law is that harm must be shown, and previously, it was actually quite difficult to harm someone with false ravings. Realistically, there were only so many people you could tell, most of whom would not really care about your claims. Consequently, while it may have been illegal to write down and attempt to distribute your reviews, it hardly ever mattered in terms of something like this, simply because of the lack of impact that a person could have by spouting false claims.

However, the Internet has rapidly changed this by making people’s reviews far more accessible and intransient. Now, if someone publishes a plausible but false “factual” review on yelp,  they can reach hundreds or thousands of potential customers and severely impact the business of the firm in question. While it is true that people do not entirely trust the opinions that they read on yelp, it is very difficult to disregard the statement that a contractor stole from a client once you have read it. In addition, it is so incredibly easy to find someone else using the same site, people will probably not even take the risk, all because of one false review.

“Generally, defamation is a false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone’s reputation, and published “with fault,” meaning as a result of negligence or malice.” This definition means that one cannot simply write anything on yelp and expect to be saved by the fact that yelp is meant to be an opinion based website. The opinions expressed on the site are perfectly fine, but as soon as a user begins to write statements of fact that are actually false, they are beginning to defame their subject. In this case, it is very likely that Perez seriously harmed Dietz’ practice with her false statements of fact. She had an opportunity to verify whether they were true, and the result of her attempt to investigate and the police’s investigation was nothing linking Dietz to her accusations. After that, it would have been perfectly legal for her rail on yelp for hours on end how much she disliked Dietz, how she thought he had done a poor job, how she was missing jewelry and though the police had not charged him she still thought it was him, but that is all she could do. Claiming that he stole from her when he most likely did not crossed the line. Previously, this line would not have been all that important – who would have really listened to her if not for a website like yelp? – but now she seriously harmed Dietz’ livelihood and reputation, which is clearly libel and defamation. Yelp reviews thus need to be treated with greater legal scrutiny than some might suggest.

I would like to extend this argument in light of John’s McDonalds example, for that brings up an excellent example of how this can be very dangerous: “If every online commenter who wrote a bad review of McDonald’s knew that they could potentially be facing a libel suit for that review, how many reviews would there actually be?” Forgetting McDonalds for a moment, lets look at the case of Anna Ayala, a woman who infamously and falsely claimed that she had been served chili at a Wendys with a human finger in it. In reality, she had planted the finger in an attempt to extort money from the fast food chain, and ended up going to jail. “Ayala’s initial claim that Wendy’s was to blame for the finger in the chili set off a firestorm of negative publicity that the restaurant chain estimates cost it $21 million in lost sales.” Putting aside her attempt to extort Wendy’s, if she had merely posted on Yelp that she had found the finger. should this have been legal? She claimed that she found a finger in her chili, a (false) factual statement, and with that statement harmed the chain immensely. All it would really take to ruin a restaurant’s reputation would be a review claiming that there was a finger and perhaps a staged picture. Is this not clearly a dangerous form of libel that should not be protected by the First Ammendment? This is altogether not that different from Perez’ case, as both involve false facts that are both believable and widely viewed. This behavior greatly harms the businesses in question and thus clearly and justly constitutes libel.

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