by Mike Masnick
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Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012
from the how-not-to-internet dept
Earlier this year, I was at a conference where there was an entire presentation on The Streisand Effect. Considering I first came up with the term and have chronicled it over the years (and had already been asked to speak on a different topic at the conference), I offered to help out with that session -- and got back no response. I went to the session to watch, and it was a really fun session, which didn't need any help from me at all. It was done by Conrad Saam, who works for Urban Spoon (and previously Avvo) and had a ton of great examples of the Streisand Effect and the impact on online reputation management. One element of online reputation management that he'd discussed, which I hadn't paid as much attention to, was the basics on how to deal with online reviews -- with a specific focus on Yelp. There were some dos and donts... and two key things not to do were (1) threaten people who write negative reviews and (2) post fake positive reviews.
Phil Buckley has a story of a Massachusetts-based moving company, called Casey Movers, which appears to have violated both of those rules, starting with a legal threat to Buckley's wife concerning a negative review she had written about Casey Movers 18 months ago, after her parents had a very bad experience with the company. It first took the company over a year to even notice the review and then post a weak defense of its practices. It didn't respond to any of the specific complaints about unprofessional behavior or broken promises. It only focused on the amount that the company had been willing to pay for damages, and gave a somewhat "technical" response about how this was what the "insurance option" she chose provided -- and even could be read as scolding her for not choosing the more expensive insurance option.
And yet... five months later (18 months after the original complaint went up), the same guy who wrote that bizarre defense sends a threat letter saying that the company is prepared to sue for libel if the review isn't removed:
Of course, rather than having the intended effect, it just made Buckley furious (and quite reasonably so). Buckley had no interest in removing the review, but rather than just telling Casey Movers to pound sand, he started investigating. He found a variety of other negative reviews... but also a large number of reviews that had significant circumstantial evidence that the company was likely posting fake positive reviews (or had hired a company to do so). It's fun to watch the investigation progress, so it's worth reading the whole thing, but here's a snippet:
Someone decided enough was enough and decided to get some good reviews at CitySearch where they now have a majority of good reviews, except there’s a problem, they’re not real reviews. You may ask how I can say that with so much confidence? Go look at them yourself, one after another… notice how most names are generic or don’t have a human photo? Yes that’s level 1 of suspicious reviews. Start looking at the reviews the “people” have left. It’s quite a coincidence that so many people who have used a Boston moving company have also loved a sprinkler repair guy in Anaheim, California and Fun Hawaii Travel out of Honolulu.
They also have a flurry of activity in August of 2012 – Aug 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14. That seems a bit sketchy as well.
His investigation also turned up that the company had been posting images of positive review letters that some customers had signed, but in doing so, revealed all their private info. Buckley contacted a few who seemed surprised and said that they had not provided permission to reveal their private info.
For a while, Casey Movers and the main representative of the company involved in all of this, Matthew Overstreet, basically ignored Buckley. But as his story kept getting more attention, Overstreet finally reached out to Buckley -- and again just kept focusing on the "insurance coverage," a relatively minor issue (made even more minor following the ridiculous threat of a libel lawsuit). Eventually, Overstreet called Buckley on Wednesday night and seemed to indicate that there wasn't any interest in actually suing, though he refused to promise not to sue Buckley's wife.
Either way, the whole story is yet another fun one to include in the long list of companies who get on the wrong side of the Streisand Effect. Going beyond that, it really shows how a bogus legal threat can lead to not just backlash and attention, but also much deeper investigations into whoever originated the threat -- and that might turn up other questionable activity, such as posting likely fake positive reviews to try to counter the real negative reviews. Oops.