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Dec 29, 2008 06:34 AM

Could Chowhound be forced to identify critical posters?

Food for thought (and discussion): if a hound posts a negative review, can the restaurant sue for defamation and require Chowhound to reveal the poster's identity??

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  1. I dont think an honest, but negative review of a restaurant could ever be considered defamation.

    I would like the people who have never been to a restaurant and then either recommend it or bash it on Chowhound face some sort of retribution though. :-D

    2 Replies
    1. re: swsidejim

      And lets' not ignore the restaurant owners and their shills who post their totally biased glowing reviews of their establishments to lure in business. Anonymity cuts both ways.

      1. re: ferret

        I agree. But I think those particular posts are painfully obvious. Especially when they have only posted on 3 or 4 threads, all having to do with the restaurant, and all with glowing reviews. Always makes me wonder how crappy their other PR endevours are hahaha.

    2. I guess this is a good reason why CH doesn't allow talk about sanitary conditions or accusations of a restaurant making a poster sick.

      13 Replies
      1. re: KTinNYC

        I think it's totally appropriate, relevant, and useful for a poster to quote and link to a city health inspector's report. Truth is an absolute defense. If the restaurant doesn't like it they can complain to the inspector, not to CH.

        1. re: Leonardo

          Posting to the cities DOH is fine but random reports from anonymous posters is forbidden and understandably so.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Posting a link to the city's DOH is not fine. I have received e-mails that state in no uncertain terms that it's forbidden. Strange, but true.

            1. re: Googs

              why? it is public information -- at least here in the u.s.

              1. re: alkapal

                It's public information here as well. Here's what the moderators told me.

                "When the subject of Health violations is raised, the discussion tends to focus just on that point, and such discussion is generally murky and undocumented, with a lot of hearsay and potential for abuse (from competitors, disgruntled ex-employees, etc.). Even where there are actual documented cases that can be supported with links to Health Department sites, it confuses posters when those are allowed but the hearsay and reports of less well documented infractions are removed."

                1. re: Googs

                  just recently, we had a little place nearby that closed. not knowing why, i believe i linked to the local inspection board site, which did not cite ant real probs. other factual (tho' rare) links, though, have stayed up without incident, afaik.

                  1. re: Googs

                    So they're saying that CHer's aren't smart enough to discern between a link to a health report on a restaurant and someones linkless opinion??

                    Heck, if a place is dirty, I wanna know.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      Yes, apparently the collection of lawyers, doctors, etc that are Chowhounds are easily confused.

                      I agree Davwud. I consider it a duty to report places that might harm a fellow Hound. I don't because it's disallowed.

                      1. re: Davwud

                        It is frustrating. Someone asked about a restaurant and wanted some place clean, as a top priority. I've seen cockroaches at one frequently recommended place but couldn't say anything.

                        1. re: chowser

                          I hope eventually they find a way that, while continuing to disallow hearsay, can allow links to Dept of Health sites.

                        2. re: Davwud

                          this kind of stuff can take over the site and it really has nothing to do with the food. Most restaurants get some negative items in their inspection reports from time to time. And if a restaurant is closed by the DOH, well, that speaks for itself and its no skin off any of us. My feeling is that people who are concerned about health reports can check the DOH site before going to a restuarant. I do not personally want to see it as an item of discussion here on chowhound.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            I do want to see references on here to DOH reports if a place has a long history of bad inspections with borderline passing scores, has been on the edge of closing numerous times with 5-day "clean this up of die" notices, and has a clear pattern of being unable to master proper sanitary practices. To me, that is entirely germaine to my choice as to whether to eat there, and I would profusely thank anyone who raised a red flag.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Food handling has everything to do with the food. It also speaks to the proprietor's attitude towards their customers. I agree with Leonardo that repeat offenders should be singled out.

                              Things such as 'no handwashing supplies' is a stupid, never shoulda happened, easily fixed violation. A place near me has broken that rule repeatedly despite being inspected and informed they must supply soap (duh) and despite being directly across the street from a drug store. Yet can I say anything? No. Especially frustrating since they're supposed to be a "healthy" choice.

                              In my city you pretty much have to have rats doing the watusi on dinner tables before the city shuts them down. I'd like to know about serious violations before they form a conga line.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. The only reasons restaurants would be pursuing this course of action is for attorneys to send curt cease and desist letters threatening to file slap suits if the person doesn't pull the offending post or issue an apology.

                  The federal courts have ruled again and again that restaurants and restaurant owners are immediately "public figures" and, therefore, any defamation suit has to prove actual malice. While some restaurants have successfully won lawsuits at the trial level, no judgment has withstood an appeal with the courts always siding with the critic saying that writing "their beef tasted like bleach and vomit" is protected speech unless the restaurant can prove the critic indeed had malice.

                  Beyond that, however, I would be curious to know how a plaintiff could ever discover the identity of a critic on CH if that person used an online mail account like Gmail or Hotmail and used the local Kinko's, public library or Starbucks Wi-Fi to post to the site.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Seth Chadwick

                    Seems odd that people are allowed to trash restaurants and chains at will, whether they've been to them or not, but not "celebrity chefs" which are clearly more public figures and open for public comment than the mom and pop sandwich shop down the road.

                    1. re: Firegoat

                      People can and do bash celebrity chefs. The site asks people not to go overboard on generating repetitive threads that are nothing but rants about personalities that have little or nothing to do with food. In the end, this site is about the food -- they're within their rights to ask that in not degenerate into anti-celebrity rants.

                    2. re: Seth Chadwick

                      "Beyond that, however, I would be curious to know how a plaintiff could ever discover the identity of a critic on CH if that person used an online mail account like Gmail or Hotmail and used the local Kinko's, public library or Starbucks Wi-Fi to post to the site."

                      And how many people do you know who regularly post that way?

                      1. re: Steve Green

                        I don't know. I haven't asked. But I personally know several people who only have laptop computers and access the internet through their local free Wi-Fi whether at Starbucks or wherever.

                        If they wanted to post on CH, how could you ever confirm their true identity?

                        1. re: Seth Chadwick

                          It could still be traced. Your email address, hotmail or otherwise isn't a way of doing something without anyone ever knowing. It doesn't matter that you're using free wireless. You still own the email address and it can be traced.

                          If you don't believe me. Start looking for bomb making materials or kiddie pron like you do food info and see what happens.


                    3. I believe restaurants, like movies
                      and celebrities and politicians. are in the
                      "fair comment" category.

                      However, if a crank posts obsessive repeated
                      defamatory comments, a restaurant owner
                      might have a case. But would
                      a restaurant owner want to pay
                      the legal fees?