“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
In a recent policy change Yelp.com, 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.