In which it metaphorically hits the fan

by Karen on August 11, 2010

Remember a couple weeks ago when I wrote about my bad vet experience? I decided the best way to handle it was to share my experiences on an online reviews forum, find a new vet, and move on. And that’s what I did.

Except that appears to be only the beginning.

This morning, Tony let me sleep in a little. He woke me up a little before 10 a.m. The first thing he said to me: “Guess who just called? That vet. She’s angry about your review, and she called it ‘borderline defamation.'”

No, I am not kidding you. She found my review on Yelp, which was posted under the name “Karen.” She put two and two together, found Tony’s number in the patient information we filed with the office, and called to confront us. Except she didn’t want to confront me, the actual writer of the review. Instead, she wanted to argue with Tony about what his wife wrote.

Of course, Tony apologized and promised he’d control his wife better in the future. Oh wait. No. That’s what would have happened if this was 1953.

ANYWAY. Tony called her back once I was up. Because she refused to speak to me at first, and Tony hadn’t even read the review, she read the entire thing to him on the phone. All eight paragraphs. She claimed that my opinion was false, and threatened to consult a lawyer if we didn’t remove or edit the review to “reflect the truth.”

Of course, Tony reminded her that, by definition, opinions cannot be false. He stood by me and the review, and argued our point articulately. And believe me, I know better than anyone, this man can argue.

But he’s also civil and calm (one of the reasons he’s such a good arguer). I was dying to tell her exactly what I thought about her threats. Tony finally said, “Look, my wife is sitting right here. She wrote the review. You should really talk to her about it.”

First of all, she said to me, “I started my practice THE YEAR YOU WERE BORN.” (I’m assuming she got that information from my Yelp profile?) Seriously? Her argument was that I don’t have a right to an opinion on how they handled my dog, because I am not an expert like she is. And, based on the comment about my age, I also don’t have a right to an opinion because I’m 25.

I’m not a vet. But I am a dog owner, and I have been since I was a small child. I didn’t write the review from the perspective of a veterinarian. I wrote the review from the perspective of a dog owner who was frustrated with what I felt was not an adequate level of care provided for my pet. I wrote the review from the perspective of a consumer, because that’s how review sites work.

Here is where I should probably remind you that I’m 5 and a half months pregnant. And it’s August. I’m hot, I’m crabby, and the last thing I need is someone telling me I’m too young to have an opinion. But I calmly told her I won’t be threatened or pushed around, and I feel it’s incredibly unethical for her to threaten to sue us just because we were unhappy with her service.

What this vet didn’t know when she called us is that we both have a background in journalism. We are passionate about the First Amendment and educated on libel laws. My husband listens to Supreme Court arguments on his iPod. For fun. We won’t be bullied into removing or editing the review in a way that compromises our First Amendment rights.

Of course, I hope this is the end of it. I hope she doesn’t try to take us to court. We certainly don’t have the money to pay a lawyer right now. But I’m not taking down my review, and I’m prepared for the challenge if it comes to that. I believe strongly that consumers should have an outlet for their opinions about businesses, and they should be able to share their experiences with other consumers without the fear of being sued by an angry business owner.

Have any of you ever been bullied by a business for an online review? Do any of my kind, supportive readers have a law degree and want to give me an opinion on what to do next? Because all I know for sure is that it feels wrong to give in to this kind of bullying.

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