Remember a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about a self-publishing author who considered suing one of his readers for posting a bad Amazon review? Ars Technica reports that one company with products listed on Amazon has threatened just that. Update: And, as a result, said company has reportedly lost its Amazon selling license.
In brief, the review as originally posted to Amazon (and quoted in the lawyers’ letter) accused router manufacturer Mediabridge Products of falsifying positive Amazon reviews and rebadging a $15 Chinese OEM router to sell for a $100 suggested (and $50 usual) retail price. As with the review of the self-published author, it became listed as the “most helpful” negative review of the product, so the company sent a letter threatening the reviewer with legal action unless he took down the review. He has not done so, though he has removed the claim about fake reviews and linked to an external review citing FCC filings to support the rebadging claim.
I’m not a lawyer, of course, but it seems to me that Mediabridge might actually have a valid case for libel, at least insofar as the claim of false reviews is concerned. There’s no way the reviewer could know for sure if Mediabridge was faking reviews, and it’s generally not a good idea to throw about that kind of accusation if you don’t have a way to prove it. That’s probably why the reviewer dropped the claim from his Amazon review.
But in threatening the suit, Mediabridge has given the reviewer an excellent verifiably-true claim to replace it with, and ensured a lot more people will find out about it thanks to the Streisand Effect. (Currently over 12,000 people have given the review a “Helpful” rating on Amazon.) They’ve also given plenty of people who had never heard of them before a good reason not to buy their products.
Regardless of who is in the right, this is a potent reminder of the importance manufacturers and sellers place on Amazon reviews. A “most helpful” bad review can dog a product forever, and if you don’t think some of the claims in that review are true then it’s going to make you mad. But as this case demonstrates, attempting to “do something about” that review can do more harm to your reputation than the review alone ever could. When in doubt, just don’t engage.
Update: And it seems that Mediabridge has found there are harsher consequences than just besmirching its own reputation. Updating its original story linked above, Ars Technica writes that Mediabridge posted an announcement to its Facebook page (no longer available) noting that it did not actually sue the reviewer, just sent a letter, the review has been changed to remove the libelous claims, and that:
Unfortunately, as a result of our attempt to get this reviewer to do the right thing & remove his untrue statements about our company, Amazon has revoked our selling privileges. Many hard-working employees whose livelihood depended on that business will likely be put out of a job, by a situation that has been distorted & blown out of proportion.
I’m actually a little skeptical about this report, given that the sole source of this information has vanished, the announcement sounds remarkably passive-aggressive for a corporate communiqué, and it’s easy enough for Facebook accounts to be hacked and all manner of random stuff put up there. Still, if true, it would be a nice coda to the story.
On a related note, my father emailed me the other day that what we call the Streisand Effect was actually well known in days gone by.
Dr. Wortle in Trollope’s novel "Dr. Wortle’s School" faced this same predicament. Someone had written a scurrilous article about him and his school in the newspaper. Dr. Wortle wrestled with whether to write a letter to the editor defending himself. Would this merely cause more people to be aware of the original article or would it have the effect of correcting the misinformation?
It’s an interesting reminder that, though accelerated by the Internet, the phenomenon is hardly unique to it.