The voice on the other end of the phone was terrifying. It wasn’t the voice though, but what it was saying that manifested so much fear. There were threats of lawsuits and and harassing actions, there was talk about losing credit ratings and employment opportunities. It was all quite horrific and left the listener shaking in her shoes. She had written a review of a pest control service, a service that was peskier than the insects she wanted removed.
She had contracted with a famous company in pest control to come out and get rid of a number of hornet nests. The year had produced a record nine of them, and all were sizable and well populated with petulant insects. Her cat had been stung multiple times after a hapless investigation of a nest, and she’d been chased into the house by her fears of the clouds of the black wasps that dive bombed her when she went outside. Enough was enough and so she called the company whose advertisements she’d seen many times.
The technician arrived a day earlier than was scheduled, which threw her off of her own plans for the day. Then, instead of buckling down to work, the technician had spent a long time trying to convince her to sign up for an annual service against any number of different pests like mice and termites and bed bugs and spiders. Thank you, no, she’d replied, she just wanted the hornets dealt with. And the technician told her that she needed to buy a greater set of one time services which included the removal of the hornets, and for only twenty dollars more. She’d replied no and no again and again in the face of his persistence until he finally insisted on payment in cash before he began. She had expected to pay with her credit card and the expense would put her at a disadvantage for the month, but she found the money and paid him. The technician went out and sprayed something on the hornet nests and then climbed in his truck and left. The following day, the hornets were still alive and overbearing so she called the company and was informed that they had provided the contracted service and if she would like, at another full charge, the technician could return and spray again.
Commenting on her experience to a neighbor, he went to the hardware store and purchased a can of wasp and hornet killer and sprayed the nine different nests built on the woman’s home. He waited until dark, when the majority of the vicious creatures would be inside, and then gave a spraying soak to one nest after the other. The can fizzled a bit and emptied as he drenched the final nest. In the morning, hundreds of little black corpses lay beneath the nests, and the neighbor came with a spade and scraped each of the nests from the building and threw them in the garbage. $130 dollars to the famous company, but the man refused the $7 he spent on the poison to help out his neighbor. She wished she’d spoken to him first, rather than following the reassuring patter of television commercials.
She told of her experience to the online group she shared interests with. The would chat about family and friends under the guise of conversations about needlepoint, knitting and crochet. They all said to her that the situation was terrible, outrageous and unforgivable. They said that the world needed to know about this big fancy pants company and their lousy practices. And a few suggested that she write up a review about the company on a services and contracting community website people used to find services and people they need. On the website people could look up and see who offered what they needed and then see the reviews of customers. One could see what the customers of these providers had to say about them. And so she wrote a review of this company which simply related her experience and gave the company zero rating stars out of five. Her online friends flocked to the website to see their compatriots review, and congratulated her on her fairness. Some said she should have given then what’s what, but she chose to simply explain why she couldn’t recommend the company to others.
Here it was, eight months later and the man on the phone had been very threatening. She had, he said, committed libel against his client and that, by God, would not be stood for. She’d protested that she merely told the truth, but it didn’t matter. The man wouldn’t listen; he just kept threatening her over and over again. In tears she had agreed to go remove her review of the company. The man had thrown so much information at her that her head began to spin. Perhaps she had been too critical, that perhaps she had not done the necessary research before entering into a contract. Perhaps she’d been wrong. But none the less, she removed her poor review of the company from the website.
This is all BS, of course. I’m telling the story in response to seeing a television commercial for a company whose product is your improved online reputation. They claim they will clean up bad comments and reviews, making no mention as to whether correction was deserved. I can envision a deep pockets company putting their weight or resources against some hapless man or woman who got screwed over by someone offering a product or service. Just the mere threat of retaliation is chilling to the idea that people can use word of mouth to applaud or boo the actions of someone they hired.
Sure, there are people out there who will write scathing reviews that are undeserved. But they will always be surrounded by more moderate reviews, making the sour grapes reviews easy to identify and dismiss. I think the last thing society needs at this point is for corporations to be able to muzzle the opinions of their customer base by hiring administrative thugs to frighten people into silence. Literally everybody who wished to express an opinion would need to be able to document and prove every scintilla of their comments and opinions, and even then not feel safe.
Needless to say, I was saddened by the appearance of the commercial that promised reputation clearing to its customers. In the first place, it’s a false offering of security. Displaced from one location, a person who’s been discarded has a tremendous number of forums and social networks in which to unleash even more vitriol about the offending company or person. Better to let the few people have their say, and if one occasion is particularly troublesome, then use your God given right to sue. It is always better to deal directly with the hornet’s nest than to hire some entity to strike glancing blows that do more harm than good. We already have companies that offer to watch over your credit, to verify the backgrounds of everyone you know, find people who may or may not wish to be found, and on and on. We hardly need another way to muddy the waters, especially by muzzling victims of deceptive, wrongful, or insulting treatment.