The tyranny of the yelping proletariat

I’ve written disparagingly about relying on Angie’s List and other such vent-it-yourself sites that allow people just like you and me to recommend plumbers, contractors and other professionals. (Hey kids, let’s all get our professional recommendations from amateurs, i.e., people who don’t know anything about the profession! Whizbang.)

I just learned, to my displeasure, that Yelp now lets people vent about lawyers. This is an awful idea. I read a bunch of these comments. The pans were written badly, incoherently. The criticisms were impenetrable: you couldn’t tell if the complaint about a lawyer’s behavior or attitude was reported accurately and truthfully, whether the complainer had a real cause to complain, was a eternal whiner who finds fault with everybody, or simply utterly misunderstood the lawyer, who has no opportunity within the Yelp format to defend himself.

There are no criteria for judging these people who do their one-sided judging, no criteria to evaluate their complaints. But their swipes, no matter how mindless, dumb or even libelous, can do real damage to a professional career.

I first ran into the inequities of Yelp through a local Indian restaurant I really like. Someone posted a stupid review. I knew it was stupid because I not only love and eat Indian food, I cook it. The reviewer was a smug, ignorant whiner. It made me mad. It could have hurt this young restaurant’s business, so I wrote a corrective review.

All this reminds me of the old Soviet system, the so-called Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and the way the old, paranoid Venetian Republic encouraged people to complain about other people: you pushed an unsigned accusation against someone you didn’t like into the mouth of a stone lion — a kind of a nasty anonymous letterbox — on the wall of the Doge’s palace. If the judicial powers received maybe two complaints about one person, they’d arrest him and interrogate him (but not interrogate the accuser who, of course, hid forever behind his anonymity), and possibly throw him into prison.

Does this sound familiar? Sure it does. It’s Yelp, it’s Angie’s List, it’s every other anonymous blog in the universe.

One great reason for our Constitution’s Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; 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. [My emphasis]

The most distasteful aspect of all this raging is its anonymity. I’d suggest that anybody who has a complaint against someone but refuses to put his entire name and contact information on it is a coward, a bully and a vicious sniper.

And any of you who read this kind of complaint should mentally delete it immediately. It’s anonymity and the quality of its expression must automatically invalidate the complaint.

 

 

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