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Dec 8, 2013 05:16 AM

Curious about Health Code policy

In another thread, the following statement was issued by the Chowhound team:

"We actually have a site policy of not discussing Health Code violations, Health Department closings and related issues. We wanted to mention that before people got into any details about the situation here. Thanks."

I can understand the idea of not having malicious posters spread potentially vicious rumors about getting sick in a restaurant in order to dissuade other customers, but if a well-known restaurant is shut down by the health department, than there is factual documentation by a licensed, government agency for SOME reason and could that not be worthy of discussions by and for Chow members?

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  1. it's their game and their ball, so it's their rules.

    28 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      I understand that, but am curious about the rationale behind said rules...

      1. re: CarrieWas218

        I don't know the rational for the site but as to my way of thinking:

        It's "closing the barn door after the bone-in rib eye got away" since the restaurant got cited and had to correct the deficiency to reopen, so what really is being accomplished by publicizing this information on CH?

        It also seems to rev up the smearing side of some personalities here and the "flies in my food" stories start to fly, causing more clean up on aisle 4 for the moderating team...

        1. re: Servorg

          Is complaining about a restaurant's food on an "off" night, or about a staff member who's since departed, not analogous to bringing up a corrected deficiency? The former happen all the time.

          Personally, I can't fathom CH's moratorium on health code discussions, unless they fear some sort of legal liability for disseminating slander.

          1. re: greygarious


            Got it in one.

            Libel, since it appears printed form, but same idea.

            1. re: sunshine842

              But it's not libel if it's true, proven, documented, and posted on the window for the world to see. I see no reason to censor public information...THAT is a violation in MY handbook

              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                I guess this is my thought as well which is why I questioned the policy.

                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                  Plus, the site can't be held responsible for what the posters write.

                  1. re: carolinadawg

                    I'm not entirely convinced of that and would like to see something definitive in that regard...

                      1. re: carolinadawg

                        Well you bring up an interesting point, while on the surface you are completely correct and your link is accurate, there is a difference between what you have supplied and Chow.

                        A web site where people leave comments is immune to the comments left by posters, the same protections do Not apply to web sites that monitor, alter or remove comments by contributors.

                        So here on Chow we are all free to leave and make comments, however because the mods have the ability to remove, edit or alter our responses this does make them vulnerable to suit for libel.

                        Chow could choose to remove positive responses or positive reviews and just leave negative ones, which means they are skewing the facts presented by the public.

                        So traditionally comments left on articles on yahoo or AOL are exempt, posts on sites like Chow are not protected and leave the site open to suit.

                        1. re: jrvedivici

                          The salient point isn't what the site owner leaves up or removes, it's whether or not the site owner has knowledge of the veracity of what's posted.

                          1. re: carolinadawg

                            I'm sorry but I'm responding to "Plus, the site can't be held responsible for what the posters write" and the subsequent Wikipedia link you provided, neither of which apply to Chow.

                            1. re: jrvedivici

                              I don't think you are correct, for the reason stated in my previous post.

                              1. re: carolinadawg

                                There is no wrong or right to this issue, I'm just saying sites like Chow are not exempt from libel because of this suit.


                                Think what you want but this has players far larger than Chow concerned over the consequences of free speech on the Internet.

                                1. re: jrvedivici

                                  JR, it may very well be that the CH policies on this matter are driven by a sense of fair play and conscience, which can be more restrictive than concerns about tort liability. That would be a good thing.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Seeing how the moderation policy has worked in the past I can't imagine that if anyone contacted the moderators with a claim of libel that looked even remotely credible I don't for a minute doubt that it would be removed, post haste.

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      I'm not questioning that, but the case I quoted above shows regardless of what a sites credibility might be, the courts have established liability.

                                      1. re: Servorg

                                        A "no go zone", if you will, between gentlemanly conduct and the edge of civil tort exposure, is a useful prophylactic for integrity, reputation, and minimizing legal expenses. And, it's the right thing to do.

                                      2. re: Veggo

                                        Veggo I don't disagree at all I'm just saying this statement; "
                                        Plus, the site can't be held responsible for what the posters write" is not accurate. That's all, sites like Chow have been proven not to have the amunity we assume.

                                        1. re: jrvedivici

                                          Proven how? The Jones suit hasn't been finalized, therefore nothing has "been established". Plus, there are significant differences between and

                                      3. re: jrvedivici

                                        It's pure conjecture on your part as to whether or not that suit has any application to

                                        1. re: carolinadawg

                                          It is pure conjecture on my part without a doubt, I'm not saying anything to the contrary. I'm simply stating your claims of immunity based on the facts and link you provided are not factually true.

                                          Who am I to speak on Chows behalf?

                                          1. re: jrvedivici

                                            You're going around in circles. As of this moment, there is nothing to support a position contrary to Chowhound being protected by the CDA.

                                            1. re: carolinadawg

                                              Since the possibility of comments being libelous is not one of the reasons for our policy, this is all kind of moot. Interesting, yes, but not really applicable here.

                                              1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                Ok, but I didn't bring it up as a reason.

                                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                                  I just replied to your post because it was the last in the conversation -- wasn't laying blame at all.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      "Is complaining about a restaurant's food on an "off" night, or about a staff member who's since departed, not analogous to bringing up a corrected deficiency?"

                      I don't find those analogous as they are subjective judgements that others who eat there may, or may not, agree with.

                      And talking about health code violations really does seem to bring out the worst in some posters...much to the detriment of this site.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        Most health violations are minor and are quickly remedied. I don't think it would be fair for a restaurant to be haunted on a CH thread that just won't end, by a roach that was discovered and dispatched 6 years ago.

              2. As others have mentioned, our reason for not discussing violations and closing has a lot to do with timeliness. The potential for bad information about the cleanliness of a restaurant to damage a business is so huge that we feel like it's really important that any site that's going to host that kind of information ensure that it's accurate, complete and up-to-date. People will decide for themselves how they feel about mixed reviews of deliciousness of the food at a restaurant, but just one report of food poisoning or vermin is enough to turn a lot of people away from going there.

                In situations where the health department has issued a report, we can be reasonably certain the information is accurate, but once the problem is corrected and the business re-opened, it's no longer up-to-date. We maintain archives back to the 1990s and Chowhound posts rank quite highly on Google -- a restaurant could be tarnished with a one-time incident 15 years later if people talked about it here.

                To give a fuller picture of our policy, I'll talk about the other two criteria, as well, though they don't really come into play in the question in this thread:

                In terms of accuracy, we really mean that reports should be verifiable. Health department reports give us that, but a lot of the 'I got sick' or 'I saw a bug' reports don't have that kind of back-up, and people are notoriously bad at figuring out where they got food poisoning. And even if they do know, it's hard to tell if it was the restaurant's fault or if someone delivered them a bad order of supplies.

                By completeness, we mean that a resource that's going to offer this type of info should have all of it. If we have some reports of problems people will start to think that Chowhound is a good source of that info, but our user submitted info isn't comprehensive. So someone could assume because they hadn't seen bad reports about a given restaurant on Chowhound, it must be safe, when all it would really mean is nobody on Chowhound had been unlucky enough to get sick there. We really want people to turn to the Health Department for this type of info and not assume that they will find any of it here.

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