The First Amendment is probably the most well-known amendment of the Constitution. It states that the government cannot interfere with individuals’ rights to freedom of expression, among other things. However, the right of free speech and self-expression has limitations, such as bans on slander and libel.
In 2010, Jeff Cullen wrote a scathing review on Yelp about Dr. Parsa T. Zadeh; Cullen’s wife, Elise Golbert, was unsatisfied with her treatment at Dr. Zadeh’s clinic. Now, the couple is being sued for libel by Dr. Zadeh for that Yelp review.
In this scenario, the customer is right. The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech to voice an opinion and though calling someone a “butcher and crook” is harsh and melodramatic, it is still an opinion.
Some may say that because of this Yelp review, Dr. Zadeh was defamed and should sue the couple because of the defamation. On the contrary, there are other reviews, some positive, some negative and some with experiences similar to that of Elise Golbert’s experience. The point of visiting an online review website is to express and review both the pros and cons of various businesses, not just the pros of the businesses.
In addition, though some may claim that the couple’s Yelp review was libelous, it was not. Rather, it was an honest opinion on a dentist and his work, even though the opinion was seemingly dramatic. Claiming that the dentist is a “butcher and crook” may be theatrical, but the review showed that the couple was not out to purposely defame Dr. Zadeh, but to tell others of their experience and dissatisfaction with his work.
However, the lawsuit sent at the couple may be stopped entirely; before the lawsuit, on Sept. 9, Governor Jerry Brown signed a California bill that protects customers from being sued by companies over bad online reviews. Now, it is more difficult for companies to stifle bad reviews.
Nonetheless, customers should take responsibility and be honest in their online reviews; they should not exaggerate a miniscule problem just because they believe they can get away with it.
The First Amendment is no doubt a wonderful amendment—it allows citizens to speak their minds without fear of being punished. However, it holds a foundation of trust for citizens not to abuse their rights. It is appropriate to cite the First Amendment when needing protection for voicing out an opinion, but it is inappropriate and even insulting to cite the First Amendment when blatantly lying or falsely accusing someone. In the case of Dr. Zadeh, opinions from past customers should not be stifled, but clarified and discussed.