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Bringing Due Process to Internet Reviews

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to… be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
-United States Constitution, Amendment VI

yelp2In a recent policy change, the website famous for allowing users to review local restaurants and other businesses, is finally allowing businesses a chance to respond publicly against negative reviews.  Yelp has always allowed users, and all but the elite members with anonymity, to review different local businesses and make any claim that they wanted without repercussion or accountability.  Yelp has had numerous complaints in the past from businesses about how they are not allowed to respond publicly to any accusations made on the site, and the fact is they had every right to be upset.

Without the ability to publicly defend against accusations Yelp becomes an entire website based around prosecution with no ability for the accused to defend themselves.  If there are inaccuracies in the review the company has no chance to correct it so the inaccuracy stands as fact.  In the current system biased reviews from competitors go unanswered, and the fact is negative reviews hurt a lot more than positive reviews help.  Our entire judicial system of due process revolves around the idea that an accused person has the ability to confront the person who is making claims against them and with good reason; a false accusation can only be disproved by someone who is actually defending themselves.

To use a recent example, in an article written in the East Bay Express back in February Kathleen Richards accused Yelp of extorting business owners out of sponsorship fees to move or remove negative advertisements from their Yelp page.  She claims that Yelp sales representatives would call up local businesses that had negative reviews and say that they were able to remove negative reviews for a price, but if the business refused to pay then they would keep the negative reviews towards the top of the page.  The article directly attacked Yelp’s credibility and could have hurt its business and revenue generating.  However the CEO of Yelp Jeremy Stoppelman responded on his blog that the article was false and had severe credibility issues since it used so many anonymous sources.  Jeremy was allowed to publicly confront his company’s accuser and defend their practices while also pointing out inaccuracies.  Hopefully the irony of the situation was not lost on Jeremy and he realized the importance of the ability to defend oneself.

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Computers Are Our Future

In a recent article by Arik Hesseldahl he writes that jobs in the technology industry are increasing in numbers and the salary just keeps getting better, so high school and college students should think about majoring in either computer science or engineering to be ready to get a job with computers.  When I first read this article my initial reaction was that: a) I don’t need another person telling me my English literature degree is worthless, and b) that it would have been very poignant fifteen years ago when we were pretty sure this whole internet thing might take off.  However, one very staggering statistic presented is that there is a, “20% drop in the number of students completing degrees in computer-related fields, and the number of students enrolling in these programs is the lowest it’s been in 10 years…” (Computing Research Assn.)   Now this isn’t fifteen years ago and we all know the importance and job opportunities that technology presents, so why as Americans are we so unwilling to see the reproductions in the lack of interest in tech jobs from our youth?

The problem starts in our schools.  With cutbacks taking place across the board in education many schools are left without any sort of technology at all, and anyone who has skill in either science or math can make a lot more money doing something other than teaching.  Bringing computers and internet connections into schools is important, but it is completely worthless without the proper education behind it.  The solution then comes from making teaching jobs more competitive in the market.  As it stands right now, if someone majors in either English or history they have very few job opportunities after college, so teaching becomes a reasonable solution; however if you major in a science or mathematics you can make significantly more money elsewhere even if you aren’t very good at what you do.  So as it stands right now schools are much more likely to get better history or English teachers than science or mathematics teachers, so children are going to be naturally inclined to like the humanities more.  By bringing more money into a teacher’s salary we are going to see better skilled math and science teachers, and then a larger job pool and more properly trained employees in the technology field.

If we don’t act, and act fast, America will soon be surpassed as the most powerful country in the world simply because we didn’t want to pay the taxes to give our children the tools to compete in the modern world.  Other countries like India see the progression of the world and are staying on top of it while we quickly fall behind.  Many companies bring in foreign employees not only because they are more readily available but because they are simply better; they are better trained and have a stronger work ethic than the majority of people here.  If our priorities aren’t changed, we will soon be known as the once great nation of America.  But if it’s any consolation, at least the poetry written about our past importance and excellence will be very well done.