Fuming about a billing dispute with his dentist, Robert Allen Lee posted his complaints on two consumer review Web sites, triggering a legal battle over a technique designed to snuff out negative online commentary.
In late August, a day after Lee posted his comments on Yelp and DoctorBase, he received a letter from the dental practice threatening to sue him for at least $100,000 for “defamation, slander and libel.” The letter reminded him that he’d signed an agreement with his dentist that barred him from publishing a critique of her or her office.
While extreme, such do-not-talk contracts underscore the struggle between consumers that are eager to share their thoughts online and companies that are looking for ways to protect their reputations in an environment in which social media helps shape opinions on just about everything.
In the political sphere, social media helped fuel the demonstrations of the Arab Spring. Everywhere else, online chatter informs our decisions on which hotel to book, what to read, which plumber to hire, where to eat — even who to date.