We’ve all seen the social media meltdowns that can ensue when customers write negative things about a company online, which always result in the company looking like the bad guy whether it is or no…
I’m not trying to equate the obviously sketchy and illegal actions by this company with Goodreads’s new policy. That would be sheer hyperbole. But after reading through the article, and the related articles at the bottom of the page, it’s clear the new policy is part of a larger systemic conflict between producers and consumers. The State of New York recently fined 19 businesses for buying fake reviews on Yelp. Here a consumer is fined by the company for writing a real review, but one that violated the company’s terms of service.
Again, I’m not trying to draw too hard a line between some hucksters illegally fining a woman for writing a negative review, and Goodreads deleting reviews for “author behavior”, but I do think the obvious correlations require some serious consideration. Public speech is increasingly mediated by corporations and/or the owners of private property. They own the servers, I’m often told, so I have to agree with the TOS or go elsewhere. Trouble is, I’m not sure there’s anywhere left to go. There is an oligopoly of social networking, though even I admit the term “oligopoly” is incorrect. Social networking sites aren’t “driving up costs” on their “free service”. I have no term for what is going on here.
These conflicts are in some ways an extension of the old rub between property rights and civil rights, (and understand that I’m using the term “civil rights” in its broadest sense.) The first amendment has always concerned how the government may not restrict the speech of its citizens: Congress shall make no law, etc. But with increasing suburbanization, the town square has been enclosed in a shopping mall, and there have been very serious disputes over speech in shopping malls and company towns. This Salon article details some of the legal twists and turns about speech in private property. This conflict has gone digital.