Updated: Strikeouts below show important edits to my original letter (the new version has been mailed).
I'm starting to feel like an unpaid writer for the Chronicle. Once again Deborah Gage botched her reporting and published an incredibly inaccurate piece that talks about Yelp and related lawsuits (but provides no new information on either). Below is the note I just sent to her and her editors…
Letter to the Editor
I continue to be extremely disappointed with the Chronicle's alarmist,
factually incorrect, and misleading coverage of "claimed" defamation on
the Internet as it relates to Yelp.
Today's story "Defamation
on the Internet" suggests that Yelp pulled a lawsuit defendant's
review: "Wong's lawyer, Marc TerBeek of Oakland, said the review is
false, and Yelp has since taken it down." This statement is
demonstrably false and could have been verified with a modicum of
effort. The review
written by T. J. (the defendant) clearly remains, though it appears T.
J. has altered the text of his review. The article lends additional
credibility to the lawyer's spurious claim by "quoting" a "Yelp
spokeswoman [who] said Yelp has automated software that removes
untrustworthy reviews, and that business owners can also flag these
reviews and ask Yelp to take them down." While this statement is true
(we do have automated software to protect the site), the quote is
misleading as it seems to further confirm that Yelp removed the review.
Additionally, the story erroneously states that Dr. Wong is no longer
suing Yelp. this is factually incorrect Though Wong has technically dismissed us (without notification as is legally required) such a release is meaningless since our anti-SLAPP motion (written in conjunction with the user) has already been filed and will still be heard by the court. Yelp is still named in the
case and we've filed our own anti-SLAPP motion. Anti-SLAPP legislation anticipated that unseemly businesses or other entities might attempt to chill free speech by filing spurious suits, then dismissing parties that actually fight back. Yelp's motion continues in the courts for this reason.
Further the alarming percentages presented to your readers don't
include underlying numbers to provide context: "Civil lawsuits nearly
doubled in 2006 and rose again in 2007 by another 68 percent." This
statement is meaningless. If the number of cases in 2006 was 3 and in
2007 was 5, would the percentage increase be so impressive or is it
even statistically significant? Without providing such critical information
you're doing your readers a severe disservice. I contacted Harvard's Berkman Center and received the underlying data:
60 cases in 2006 and 101 cases in 2007. Set against a backdrop of ever
increasing content on the Internet, such case growth is not very
surprising. Put another way, if you added 10 million cars to the road
tomorrow the number of accidents would definitely go up, but this
doesn't mean driving has gotten more dangerous (only more people are
doing it regularly).
It's ironic that one of Andrew Keen's "accountable experts" got so
many important facts wrong in a single story. Another sad day for
journalism and the San Francisco Chronicle.