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Reviews & Politics Becoming Mixed


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#1 SEOigloo

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 03:20 PM

Hi Everybody, :wave:

I thought this might form the basis of an interesting discussion here. A couple of weeks ago, a colleague alerted me to the fact that New York's Zucchotti Park Google Place Page had become a platform for politically-oriented commentary (user reviews regarding Occupy Wall Street). Today, I woke up to a Huffington Post story about an Alabama deli owner who is being targeted on Google Places for his alleged employment of 'illegal immigrants'. There are now 182 reviews on his Place Page, some of them rife with racially- oriented hate speech; others with words of support for the business owner.

From a Local perspective, this scenario is of real interest to me, interesting enough that I wrote a post about it at Search Engine Guide in which I'm asking the readership there to comment on what stance they feel Google should take on situations like this. I find it VERY interesting that there is not one review of the deli mentioning political views on Yelp. Yelp's policies are much more strictly enforced than Google's, in my experience. I don't know for certain, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if Yelp is actively moderating this situation right now.

What I thought we might discuss here is whether review guidelines (which for all hubs almost always state that reviews should deal only with actual patronage of a business) provide a user experience of higher quality, less accuracy, or what have you? The example of the park is a good one. Suppose you were visiting New York and you wanted to attend 'happening' events or avoid crowded places, potentially dangerous places, police problems, etc. If a review portal erases all real-time commentary on this, does this make it less relevant as a source of information? Or, does the sacrifice of this accuracy make good sense if the majority of people just want to know where to sit on a quiet bench or get a good lunch?

The level of discussion at Cre8asite is typically unparalleled elsewhere on the web, so I'd love to hear what you think about this.

Edited by SEOigloo, 21 October 2011 - 03:21 PM.


#2 Michael_Martinez

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 05:48 PM

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 might discourage Google from creating any sort of policy governing user content on its services. It's a stupid law which has been used as both a shield and an excuse to allow hostile content to explode across the Internet.

Ironically, the two or three companies that pushed for that part of the law that protects forum operators no longer need it.

#3 iamlost

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Posted 21 October 2011 - 09:54 PM

I hope you'll weigh in with your thoughts on this interesting development in the world of online reviews. Should review entities remove reviews that do not center on a customer's actual patronage of a given business, landmark or site? And, if such data is removed, does this make the picture of the business more or less accurate, on the whole? Finally, what should a business owner like Steve Dubrinsky do, finding himself in the middle of this online reputation attack? Respond to the reviews? Hire a lawyer? Sue the portals that are enabling this content to be published about his buisness? What's your take?

I see it as simply the natural movement of commenting from bbs to fora to blogs to reviews... and as we know commenting comes complete with ignorance, incompetence, and trolls.

In each such platform there have been the moderated, i.e. to some enforced standard, and the not. Moderation, as we know requires people, something we unfortunately know Google is loath to accommodate unless forced. While this instance is regrettable the more it occurs and is publicised the sooner Google will respond. Sad really.

The entire point of a review is that it reflect the experience of a customer's actual patronage of a given business, landmark or site. Anything else is NOT a review and should be expunged.

As to what this particular business owner should do, my :twocents: :
Note: I am not a lawyer, this is not to be construed as legal advice.
1. immediately take competent qualified legal advice.
Note: the reason to do this prior to responding publicly is that (especially in highly litigious jurisdictions such as the US) he does not want to inadvertently jeopardise his situation.

2. ASAP (and preferably within 24 hours) release a press release simple statement of fact. If necessary, i.e. if he ever has employed an illegal immigrant, include a brief explanation.

3. have his attorney contact Google (in this example) in writing requesting specific named actions.

4. have his attorney consider the appropriateness of an injunction or other legal action.

I have a copyright infringement response process in place because my business is my information, my content. It may be that some business models should similarly create a reviews/reputation response process.

Note: unfortunately the way I understand US law - referred to by Michael - as soon as you undertake moderation you accept responsibility for all content, including UGC, which Google and similar really like as it lets them off the moderation and, by extension, customer service real people employment hooks... and means su[ing] the portals that are enabling this content to be published about his buisness is pointless.
Note: happy to be instructed if my understanding is incorrect or limited.

#4 SEOigloo

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Posted 22 October 2011 - 02:11 PM

Hi Michael,
I have heard, via the Local grapevine, that colleagues of mine have seen Google remove reviews that did not comply with their guidelines. Do you think this would be a violation of the Communications Decency Act of 1996? I haven't ever heard of any complaints or legal actions resulting from this type of moderation on their part.


Hi Iamlost,

Interesting to hear your views on favoring legal counsel. This is probably a good idea. Perhaps it could get some of the questionable content removed...though it can't deal with the bad sentiment that created it. I feel sincerely sorry for the business owner and would reach out to him if I thought I could actually help, but I think the problem is too big to be dealt with by a Local SEO.

I certainly have had it up to here with the fear ruling things like this in the U.S. Actually heard some bozo joking about wanting to put alligators along the U.S./Mexican border. Hello Dark Ages.

But back to the original topic...I wonder if Google would consider developing some type of embedded local news stream into Places. Google has oft claimed that they want to provide the most up to date data about physical places. If, at times, that should include controversy, perhaps people could post about it to the stream in Twitter-like fashion, rather than using reviews for purposes for which they aren't actually intended. Or maybe that would just make everything worse. Just a thought.

#5 jonbey

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Posted 22 October 2011 - 06:04 PM

The saddest thing is people complaining that a local business is employing immigrants. If America is anything like the UK, for many years / decades such businesses have known that the average foreign worker does a much better job with less complaining that UK workers (my family was involved in the restaurant business for about 20 years) but it was not just what we experienced, many other companies say the same. UK workers are not happy to work for minimum wage and are less reliable than immigrant workers.

But that did not answer the question, sorry. What was the question? Hmmmm.

Review guidelines. Not sure what good guidelines would ever do really. Most people know that bad reviews are left by the minority really, the happy customers have better things to do generally. Maybe a good review system should always alternate good and bad reviews and always show a good review first and then leave the bulk of the reviews hidden? Try to provide more balance. I am sure rival businesses must go around leaving fake bad reviews on Places. Not experienced it, but it must happen surely?

#6 SEOigloo

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 01:47 PM

Hey Jon,
It's a complicated situation here. Big Ag and the Meat Packing industry bring in busloads of unregistered immigrants from Mexico and Central America to work in the industrial fields and factories of the United States. The darkest side of this is that these poor workers are then open to horrific abuses (including slavery) because they are totally unprotected by any law. Eventually, many are caught and sent back to their countries of origin. They are punished, while the corporations bringing them in are not punished in any way (very corrupt). So, on the one hand, there is a really dangerous side to so-called 'illegal' immigration. The incidence of illness, injury and death among these unfortunate people is appalling and largely undocumented. This is how most of the produce and meat is put on America's tables, by workers who end up in jobs few 'legal' Americans are willing to do because of their low pay and danger.

The meat packing industry is a really good example of this - meat packing used to be one of the highest paying jobs in the United States. There were full benefits and protections for the workers. But by firing these generations of American workers off and starting to bring in workers from outside of the nation, the corporations were able to cut costs down to nothing and gain total freedom from complying with any laws governing safety or health. It's a dire situation...and not one I think of as political. I think it's a human rights situation of the most egregious kind.

In my own state, migrant workers have long been the workforce of the alcohol industry and many of these men and women have entered the country secretly, live in sheds or sleep on the ground while they work the industrial alcohol fields, try to save their wages and then return to Mexico at the end of the harvest to try to help their families financially. Like the meat packers, these workers are open to many abuses and have no health coverage of any kind to assist them. Many sicken and die, largely undocumented, from exposure to pesticides and herbicides. It's a very bad situation, and people in California often complain that these unfortunate folks have put a burden on the health care system by using emergency hospitals when they are injured or sickened without being able to pay for them. Nevertheless, Californians continue to consume the tons or liquor that the system produces.

When my father-in-law's family came west from the Eastern U.S., his family worked their way across the country by picking apples and other crops (rather like the famed fictional Joads in the Grapes of Wrath). American citizens used to do all of these jobs, but greed has totally changed this situation now and when large farmers can't hire the least privileged people to pick their harvests for cheap, they let the fruits rot on the ground. I've seen it happen and it's really crazy.

In the restaurant industry, my understanding is that it is Chinese restaurants that are doing the strangest things with their workers. Most American Chinese restaurants are staffed by workers who are brought here in very hush-hush ways from Fujian province in China. They do not speak English, have no concept of the geography of the United States and often only understand the phone numbers and zip codes of the places they are sent to work in the back of the restaurants. They work for very little money to support what is actually an enormous industry in this country.

My point is, on the one hand, so-called 'illegal' immigration is a dangerous idea because of the sorrowful dangers inherent to the human beings involved. But on the other hand, I feel disgust every time I see people carrying on in a racist manner about this because I still think of my country as Indian Country, in which case, everyone who isn't a Native American is a newcomer. It's awful to watch the newcomers single out groups to hate. Like much else that is evil, money is rather obviously the root of most of it. Sad.

Edited by SEOigloo, 23 October 2011 - 01:48 PM.


#7 jonbey

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Posted 23 October 2011 - 03:30 PM

Yeah, it is the same here. We get immigrants in fields, living in sheds etc too, speak no English etc. In fact there was a news report not so long ago of a whole group discovered and freed from slavery. Often they are told they will have a great job and lots of money, then pay people a lot to get into the country an on arrival have their passports taken and get driven to remote places where they work for nothing but food and water. They have no way to escape, no idea where they are, no idea what their rights are. Then there are the ones that make their own way for the booze industry too - some blew themselves up recently, not sure if we ever found out who they were.

But generally when it comes to restaurants and cafes over here it is a little different. People are better educated and know what they are doing, know how to trick the system. Many people from outside of the EU fake documents to work in restaurants (Brazilians pretending to be Portuguese, other South Americans pretending to be Spanish etc).

The first group are hard workers and no no better, and are exploited. The second group are also hard workers, but are the ones exploiting the system. But ultimately, both groups still do a better job than locals. So many people are unemployed and yet when asked if they will go an do a certain job just say "I don't think I will like that sort of work" etc. Of course, now in the current situation a lot of people do not have the option to take up basic work.

Probably the same everywhere! But it is sad to criticise a business for using illegal immigrant labour - I bet half the people complaining in the reviews would never be willing to do the job themselves!



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