You’re familiar with Yelp and its seemingly endless reviews of restaurants by so-called “food critics.” While in general most complaints about a bad restaurant experience have more to do with service than with food, on occasion it’s the food that takes the lion’s share of the blame. But for French restaurant critic Caroline Doudet, she found out the hard way what happens when a restaurant you patronize fights back because of a negative review you posted in Google.
BBC News reported that the owner of II Giardino restaurant took Doudet to court because her negative review of his restaurant and its prominent position on Google was “unfairly hurting their business.” Ms. Doudet’s wrote a blog post (which has since been taken down) with the title “the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino.”
The review appeared fourth in Google search rankings when searching for the restaurant. The judge ruled that the title of the post needed to be changed so its title wouldn’t rank as high in Google’s search engine. The judge also decided that the damage done by Doudet’s post was exacerbated by Doudet’s fashion and literature blog, “Cultur’elle” and indicated that the size of her fan-base (in this case about 3K followers) was enough to consider her opinion influential.
As part of the ruling, Doudet was ordered to amend her post title and pay damages in the amount of €1,500 ($2,000; £1,200) as well as an extra €1,000 to cover Il Giardino’s costs.
This action suggests a number of important questions.
What about free speech? And what was so terrible about Doudet’s review?
Most of us who eat out from time to time have experienced poor service or poor fare. But how many of us blog about it or better yet, has a significant number of fans that might be influenced by your review? In this case, the judge felt the blogger was influential and their negative review was going to have a deleterious impact upon the business of the restaurant.
What did the owners of Il Giardino have to say?
The restaurateur admitted that there were “some errors in the service, that happens sometimes in the middle of August.” But what mattered was the way someone can criticize and doing so with respect. In this case, the article continued to place high in Google search results and was causing harm to the restaurant’s reputation, especially given the restaurant’s 15 years in business.
When BBC asked Doudet about the case she said, “This decision creates a new crime of ‘being too highly ranked [on a search engine]’, or of having too great an influence. We look for bloggers who are influential, but only if they are nice about people.”
L’esprit de France – so much for the revolution!
Alors que pensez vous? Is this European censorship related to search engine results gone haywire? If you have influence, are you not allowed to freely express yourself without fear of retribution? What might have been a better course of action? Did the restaurant owner bother to contact Doudet first before taking her to court?