Friday, November 21, 2014

Silencing the critics

The news story that a couple were fined for leaving a negative review of a hotel on TripAdvisor has recently come to national prominence, but less widely reported was the fact that this summer a French blogger was also fined for writing a post that was critical of a restaurant. The latter case was more disturbing, as the fine was imposed by a judge; in the former case, the "fine" (actually money deducted from the couple's credit card) resulted from a rogue policy included in the small print of the booking document - a policy that has since been scrapped under pressure from the authorities, with the couple refunded.

It begs the question as to what is and is not acceptable in terms of reviews. Some reviewers can be deliberately malicious - as seems to have been the case for novelist Kathleen Hale, who unwisely got sucked into confronting her online abuser - but, generally speaking, reviews have to be seen as fair comment and reviewers shouldn't be threatened, intimidated, punished or silenced for daring to voice a critical opinion. If writing critical commentaries were to be outlawed, sites like TripAdvisor would be instantly rendered useless - and this very blog would soon grind to a halt. While I can understand the frustration of restaurant proprietors and hotel managers (and musicians, directors, comedians, authors, artists etc) who are irritated by negative reviews featuring prominently in Google searches, upholding the right of people to comment freely is more important.

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