So the end of the semester is here, and it is time for the final blog for MIS 411. Here are a few thoughts about this project, what I think the future of this topic is, and what I learned.
USER REVIEWS TO SLAPP TO FREE SPEECH
I started out with the topic of user reviews on websites because I found an article about fans of Michael Jackson attempting to manipulate sales of a book on Amazon.com. The fans were unhappy with some of the content of the book, so they flooded the book’s page on Amazon with thousands of 1-star reviews, negative comments, and even quality complaints to Amazon. At one point Amazon actually removed the book in response to a quality complaint (they later put it back on the website).
This manipulation of the system was so blatant, and yet Amazon continued to allow it. So that prompted me to begin thinking about the legitimacy of online user reviews, and whether or not they have much of a future.
After the initial posts on this topic, I discovered an issue called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The first article I read pertained to a lady who wrote a negative review of a contractor on Yelp, and the contractor responded with a lawsuit. As I researched this topic, I discovered there is a debate going on about these SLAPP lawsuits, as well as efforts by some states to prevent them.
The issue of SLAPP also opens up the wider issue of free speech and freedom of the press. Several of my posts examined a publication that was targeted by a public official in a potential SLAPP case. Another post discussed whether the press should be forced to reveal sources, as well as the broader issue of whether the press should be immune from prosecution.
Some of my thoughts processes in these later posts revolved around the original intent of the First Amendment, and whether if, in this era of political correctness, society is beginning to limit the exercise of free speech and a free press, if not through the legal system, then through public pressure via social media. Some of these thoughts did not develop in the blog , mostly because they spilled over into other current event topics that I wished to avoid for purposes of this blog.
My final post went back to the issue of SLAPP, but the story I discussed was a case of anti-SLAPP laws being invoked to prevent a libel case from moving forward. The plaintiff argued that the burden placed on him by the anti-SLAPP statute was too great for him to continue his case. Whether the plaintiff’s libel claim was legitimate or not, this is certainly a case of irony, where an anti-SLAPP law was used almost in the same way a SLAPP law is used, by placing a huge financial burden on one party in an attempt to silence them.
FUTURE OF USER REVIEWS
Researching this topic of online user reviews is eye-opening. The fact that some consumers intentionally try to manipulate the system really weakens it. Even though these reviews are still a good way to gauge the quality of a product or service before buying, the more people abuse the system, the less reliable it will become. Yelp, Amazon, and other sites that rely heavily on these reviews need to develop a way to better filter out the garbage while not censoring legitimate critics.
A big concern for the future of user reviews is also the SLAPP issue. Even with anti-SLAPP laws, the prospect of having to go to court at all just because I wrote a negative review is enough to force me to hesitate before writing one. I’d rather just let people find out about a bad product or service on their own. So it will be interesting to see if the laws can protect people from retaliation if they post negative comments, and also if they can do so in such a way that keeps people from abusing the laws themselves.
Even though the topic of user reviews is somewhat narrow and benign, I really enjoyed the process of blogging and writing down my thoughts on the different topics I covered. Blogging is something I have always wanted to do, and I am glad I was in a situation where I had the motivation to do it.
One lesson I learned was the importance of thinking through a topic before writing about it. I struggle with staying on topic at times, and writing this blog helped me focus on a single issue and make sure what I was writing (at least for that post) was relevant to the topic.
Another lesson I learned was the importance of interest in the topic I am writing about. It is so much easier to write about something I am interested in than it is to write about a topic a professor assigns to me. I would not have been able to get through 10 blog posts without being interested in this topic.
Finally, from reading other students’ blogs, as well as writing my own and reading the comments, I was again reminded how important it is to think about alternative points of view before just responding off the cuff. I have had the tendency when challenged to just react and respond, without giving at least some thought to why I disagree with an opposing viewpoint. Again, the topic I covered is not all that controversial (at least from most perspectives), but reading some of the other blogs helped me remember to listen or read and think, before responding.
I plan to continue blogging, but I am not sure whether I will have time to do so. After graduation I start my new job in a new city, then six weeks later I get to meet my son and enjoy being a dad. But if time permits, I want to continue this.
Assuming I do continue blogging, I plan to shift more to topics related to the Christian faith and the Bible, but still discuss social and ethical issues. The idea is to have a positive impact on family and friends, so hopefully I can do that.
So for now, good luck and congratulations to all of my classmates who are graduating next week. It’s been a fun couple of years.