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Sue tripadvisor? You may as well sue the internet

man covering ears, eyes, mouth

We hear that 400 US and UK hotels and restaurants are considering a group action against Tripadvisor (the user-review travel site) for ‘false’ and ‘unfair’ reviews.

That’s the language of defamation. Apart from the legal complexities of cross-border legal cases, we have to wonder why they don’t go the whole hog and attempt to sue the entire internet?

In the world of peer-to-peer there is less publication, more conversation, in the way content is distributed.

Publication is far from the end of the story. It’s the start of a conversation – in which facts, assertions and, yes, opinions, can and should be challenged. Who to sue is, therefore, far less clear than once it was.

Taking legal recourse against the source assumes the world (and tripadvisor in this case) is simply a one-to-many broadcaster, rather than a many-to-many reality. If you’re going to sue tripadvisor why not also take action against those who wrote the reviews, or who shared a link, or who quoted a passage? That’s what is open to us in libel cases – sue the creators of the content, those who published it and the distributors. In reality the legal focus falls on the publisher.

On the web we are all publishers.

On the web the originator of the content is the person who wrote it, not the provider of the platform – because the means of production resides in the creator not the publisher.

As I explained in a post on my personal blog (fasterfuture.blogspot.com):

“When we talk about means of production, we often think about the machinery to produce. But that does not mean the device.
“In a mass production world the connection between the machinery and the process is clearer. Traditionally a newspaper owner needed to own a printing press. They also needed to employ a team or writers, photographers, editors (etc) to produce the content. Which was the means of production? The printing press or the producers of the content? The two were so tightly connected it didn’t matter.
“On the web the owner of the means of production of content is the person who creates the content. In reality this was always so. In the past the owner of the means or production of content had no access to the printing press. Now they have (or at least to its equivalent in the form of the web – where of course everyone is a publisher).”

Beyond the rights and wrongs of who to sue – why would someone getting bad reviews call in a brief instead of responding to the complaint? What don’t these guys want to learn about providing a service which is a better fit with the needs of their customers?

Threatening to sue people for the expression of fair opinion creates barriers to becoming a more effective business. You need to know what is wrong with your business from every perspective so you can make it better. A better business gets more customers and generates more profit.

The social web means we have never had a better set of tools for learning from your customers  in real-time. Extreme real-time insight – at scale.

Those that take advantage of these tools will become a better fit, more relevant, more efficient. Those that don’t won’t.

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