Free Speech Parameters for User Generated Content

The growth of interactive and user-generated content tools on the Web gives the ordinary person a voice unlike never before. We have moved from spectators to participants in sharing thoughts about the world around us. From a marketing perspective, one of the greatest impacts of this trend is the stronger voice consumers now have in sharing their experiences with brands and companies. Frustrated or unhappy consumers can vent to anyone who cares to click and read.

The capability to speak and be heard comes with a responsibility to stick to the facts and not engage in libelous communication. This caveat is at the heart of recent lawsuits filed by professional services providers against consumers who posted negative reviews of their service encounters on the online review site Yelp. In one case, a San Francisco dentist filed suit against a couple who posted negative review about the quality of treatment their 4-year-old son received. This suit follows another one filed by a San Francisco chiropractor over a Yelp posting by a patient critical of billing problems encountered. The parties eventually settled in the latter case after what the defendant said was "a misunderstanding between both parties led us to act out of hand."

Online customer reviews have resulted in greater transparency in a business' dealings with customers. User-generated reviews should force companies to be held to a higher level of accountability in taking care of service and product failures. Review writers must take care to temper dissatisfaction by focusing on objective, factual matters in their posts. Name calling and reputation bashing, while possibly relieving some stress at the moment a review is written, could create even greater angst if the target of a review is libeled or injured in some way.

Link: Online Media Daily - "Court Allows Dentist to Sue Writer of Bad Yelp Review"

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