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Could I be sued for libel?
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toddsqui



Joined: 30 Nov 2013
Posts: 5
Location: United States

PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 3:50 pm    Post subject: Could I be sued for libel? Reply with quote

I recently wrote a negative review of a TEFL program that I took, and it was taken down on the grounds that the owners of said program could sue the owners of the review site for defaming the school based on untrue claims. This, despite the fact that I had followed all of the guidelines for posting. My review had some positive remarks, but most of it was negative because my experience was, on the whole, pretty negative; in other words, I thought the review was fair.

I've noticed that increasingly less and less review sites are willing to accept negative reviews. For example, a couple of months ago I had tried to post a negative review of a teacher on ratemyprofessor.com, but this review was also taken down as well.

Am I going crazy, or do the webmasters of review sites have a valid point in protecting themselves?

I guess I was led to believe that review sites were supposed to be sites where one could post both positive and negative reviews, but apparently this is not the case. I mean, why have a review site at all if you aren't even willing to let the people speak for themselves?

Can someone please enlighten me here, because I am genuinely confused about all of this.

Thanks,


Todd
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nomad soul



Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 4266
Location: Terra firma

PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If your claims against the company were true, there's nothing to worry about. Besides, I doubt any TEFL course provider would go through the headache of taking disgruntled/dissatisfied former customers to court; they can't afford the bad publicity if any of the claims turn out to be valid and verifiable. In other words, it wouldn't be a smart business strategy on their part.
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rtm



Joined: 13 Apr 2007
Posts: 614
Location: US

PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Since this is something you are encountering in multiple places, I wonder if it could be how your negative reviews are worded. If they use subjective descriptions (e.g., "the course was awful!", "the teacher didn't care about students!") rather than objective descriptions (e.g., "the course provider said we would have 6 hours a day of class time, but on average, 5 of these hours were spent discussing issues unrelated to teaching", "I asked the teacher for feedback 6 times, but never once received any feedback"), then that might be one reason the reviews are being removed. If you keep your reviews strictly factual, then, I would guess, they might be more likely to stay up.
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Xie Lin



Joined: 21 Oct 2011
Posts: 484

PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 5:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Toddsqui, can you tell us in which country the course you took was located? There is one provider in particular who has become notorious for threatening review sites which post negative reviews about his course. I'm curious whether you may have taken this course. Or it may be these repeated threats of legal action have made the review sites wary .

.
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suphanburi



Joined: 20 Mar 2014
Posts: 277

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Depending on a lot of factors (in many countries)....
"Truth" is NOT always a defense against defamation, libel or damage to business. Your "first Amendment Rights to free speech don't carry beyond the border of the US" and it is a big world out there.

Many countries will block sites if they are deemed to have violated that countries laws (regardless of where the server/site are based). Many sites won't allow inflammatory comments (true or not) for that reason alone.

For those reasons, many sites won't allow you to name and shame beyond a simple, "don't work there, I had a bad experience, PM for details" type message.

.
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toddsqui



Joined: 30 Nov 2013
Posts: 5
Location: United States

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 2:33 am    Post subject: RE: Reply with quote

These are all great comments!

I will address most of them in no particular order:

Xie Lin - The program was based in Mexico.

Rtm - I never made any blatant assertions like that. I simply wrote both the good points and the bad, but mostly emphasized the bad because I felt that my life was endangered from being in a foreign country and getting no assistance from the program. I said that there were some "serious flaws worth considering." I felt obligated to help other students avoid this mess.

suphanburi- I understand, but I also felt that I needed to help other people avoid making the same mistake that I made by putting my trust in this particular program. They lied about their job placement, and to do that in Mexico is quite dangerous for people. I was very close to being impoverished when no job materialized in three months. I would have been on the streets had I not been able to secure employment from another country, all on my own.

Sure, you could make the case that people who get into this mess maybe deserve to get into it because they didn't do their due diligence, but the program does not have any negative reviews (they are all positive). People have mentioned this program in the forums on Dave's ESL cafe, but there aren't any negative reviews of it. Naturally, I thought this program was a winner.

So I guess my follow up question is this: can you not make the case for fraud in another country? Because that is essentially what happened. They made several claims on their website that just weren't true; they were false. And they are also apparently using social media very skillfully to mask the truth about their services.

Is this a case of fraud or just "fair game" in the capitalistic market?

What do you think?
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nomad soul



Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 4266
Location: Terra firma

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 4:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

toddsqui wrote:
What do you think?

What do I think? I think you need to move on and let this issue go. Although the school didn't place you in a job (for whatever reasons), you did receive teacher training as expected, and now you have a TEFL cert and apparently, your first teaching job in another country. Besides, we're only getting one side of the story and even that's open to conjecture. Plus, there are neutral or diplomatic ways to publicly voice one's dissatisfaction over products or services, but only after attempting to resolve the problem directly with the other party first,

As I was reading your posts, one statement really stuck out: "I felt that my life was endangered from being in a foreign country and getting no assistance from the program." I see a bigger concern that requires some reflection, specifically, how you'll deal with cultural ambiguity. That is, how will you manage living and working in a new culture? If things don't go as expected with either your employer, the students, your living environment, etc., will you be itching to openly express how you feel you've been wronged? I'm not making fun of you nor downplaying your feelings; however, keep in mind that success in this field takes a lot of patience, flexibility, low (realistic) expectations, and a healthy sense of humor.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes: "Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward." ~ Victor Kiam, American entrepreneur (1926 - 2001). Just some food for thought.
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suphanburi



Joined: 20 Mar 2014
Posts: 277

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 5:49 am    Post subject: Re: RE: Reply with quote

toddsqui wrote:
Is this a case of fraud or just "fair game" in the capitalistic market?
What do you think?


I think it is a big wide world and in most of it there is nobody to "take care of and support you".

You are allowed to starve, die of illness on the steps of the hospital or any number of other issues.

"Consumer Protection" and "Truth in Advertising" do NOT exist in most countries.

Getting sued (or worse - like getting dead) are very real possibilities if you try to ruin someone's business in many countries. The "police" and "civil courts" won't be there to protect you (the foreigner).

As to ""assist you" in getting employment.... that is always a fools game as is any guarantee of placement. You bought a TEFL cert and some training. After that what happens is up to you. It is a big planet and there are lots of options.

Learn to work with it or stay home where you are "safe" and "protected".
If you insist on what is right you may find yourself "dead" right. Welcome to Latin America, Asia and/or Africa (just about everywhere an American can work in TEFL).

.
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rtm



Joined: 13 Apr 2007
Posts: 614
Location: US

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 6:01 am    Post subject: Re: RE: Reply with quote

toddsqui wrote:
So I guess my follow up question is this: can you not make the case for fraud in another country? Because that is essentially what happened. They made several claims on their website that just weren't true; they were false. And they are also apparently using social media very skillfully to mask the truth about their services.

I think it depends on the laws and legal procedure in the location where the business is. If you really want to know whether you can "make a case for fraud" in this instance, you should consult someone who has an understanding of the legal system in Mexico, such as a lawyer.

Likewise, your original question of whether you could be sued for libel really depends on the laws of the place where you are now. Whether the review site could be sued for libel depends on the location of the site owners and/or the physical servers.

In any case, the likelihood of someone actually suing you is very small. I'd suggest you forget it and move on, as nomad soul said. If you really want to post something, make a page on a free web site provider, and put your review there. I'm sure search engines will index it, and people who search for the company's name will find it.
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12302
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

They might just send round the boys to get you.
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toddsqui



Joined: 30 Nov 2013
Posts: 5
Location: United States

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 12:40 pm    Post subject: RE: Reply with quote

I kind of anticipated there would be some unsympathetic voices in this thread. The "Suck it up and die on the streets," type of members.

Yes, it's a big world, but the world is getting smaller and more globalized and interconnected (sorry for the cliche, but it's true). We have things like the Hague Convention, The International Court of Justice, and other developing institutions that will bring people to justice for behaviors that nearly everyone across the globe can agree are criminal. Sure, currently it's only major offenses that are considered, but I do wonder--with the advent of internet, Skype, and all of the rest-- how long it will be before some consensus building takes place over stuff that I've already mentioned. One can only speculate...

The point is this: I was lied to and tried to protect other people by writing a negative review on a TEFL review website. That review was taken down on the grounds that the advertisers of the program, who are from Mexico, could sue the website owners who have a global reach. That's the issue. I brought in the issue of fraud because if I get sued for libel, I can counter sue on charges of fraud. But the issue remains the same: can I post a negative review?

I'm guessing the final answer to all of this is:
It depends, and shut up.

Fair enough. Cyber space is big. I'll take my wares elsewhere.

Thanks for the replies.
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rtm



Joined: 13 Apr 2007
Posts: 614
Location: US

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 1:03 pm    Post subject: Re: RE: Reply with quote

toddsqui wrote:
The point is this: I was lied to and tried to protect other people by writing a negative review on a TEFL review website. That review was taken down on the grounds that the advertisers of the program, who are from Mexico, could sue the website owners who have a global reach. That's the issue. I brought in the issue of fraud because if I get sued for libel, I can counter sue on charges of fraud. But the issue remains the same: can I post a negative review?

Its interesting that you state these as definites -- e.g., "If I get sued for libel, I can counter sue on charges of fraud". In what country, according to what laws? Not every country even has mechanisms for counter-suing, or consistent laws about what constitutes libel, or fraud, even any laws against libel or fraud at all. Then there are, of course, complicating issues of enforcement, connections, bribery, etc., but I'm guessing you don't want to go into those.

Are you asking specifically about whether a Mexican company can sue you (in the US, according to your profile), or the web site owners (no idea where they are) for libel in US courts?
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toddsqui



Joined: 30 Nov 2013
Posts: 5
Location: United States

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 1:50 pm    Post subject: RE: Reply with quote

Here's how the situation went down:

(1) I posted my negative review
(2) I was contacted by the website owners that they wanted proof that I had taken the TEFL course because the owners of the TEFL program were challenging my review.
(3)I sent the website owners my certificates (scanned copies) as proof that I had taken the course
(4)My review was taken down
(5)I emailed the website owners asking them why
(6) they replied and said that they didn't want to get into any trouble, specifically libel. They used this word, not me!

They said that my review was bordering on a violation of their guidelines because I used the word "lied," as in "they lied about their services."

The website owners also said that they didn't want to get into any trouble, I guess fearing that THEY might be sued on charges of libel. I don't know where the website owners are based, but if what you, RTM, say is true, then they could very well be charged.

I guess my original question is just really broad, perhaps too broad for us to have a sensible conversation about it: can a company sue a person or entity on libel charges for a negative review posted on a review website, irrespective of location? If the website owners are in Orlando, Florida, for example, can the TEFL program owners in Mexico sue the people in Florida? or China? or Romania? etc. etc. on charges of libel?? I'm guessing most of the people who have posted here think the answer is no.

Although I am definitely not interested in having this conversation degenerate into legal-speak, I raised the issue originally because I wanted to find out just how serious (for lack of a better word) a negative review really is. Should review websites no longer be viewed as places where people can openly voice their opinions and experiences?

I tried to do my due diligence when researching TEFL programs, as any reasonable person would, and calculated my decision based on faulty information-- because apparently negative reviews are not allowed on this one particularly popular review website. I looked to other review websites, of course, but there was nothing, no negative reviews. After speaking to alums, hand-picked from the staff of the TEFL program, I thought the coast was clear. Research done. Decision made.

Contrary to some member's impressions, I'm not crying over spilled milk. I DID land a job, after all. What I am trying to figure out is whether I am allowed to protect other people from making the same bad decision that I made, by posting a negative review on a review website--assuming the claims I make in the negative review are fair and truthful and totally legit. I don't want to sue anyone, but I would like to protect would-be teachers who might fall victim to this seemingly calculated deception, via a review of my experience and the rough justice that these review websites once represented, once upon a time. Call it a moral obligation, righteous indignation, whatever you want. I just want to know if we have reached the point in internet history where negative reviews lead to extremely serious consequences, i.e. libel cases, a visit from "the boys," etc. etc.

I'm no longer in the United States, and I guess, for all intents and purposes, I should just let the issue die and allow other people to fall through the cracks the way I did. But I do see a serious issue here. Yes, it's important to respect cultures and laws and diversity and all of that... there's no debate there. But in a global marketplace, where interactivity is inevitable, whose going to set the rules for this sort of stuff? Whose going to watch over the watchmen?
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12302
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nothing is going to happen to you.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9484
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Sun Apr 27, 2014 3:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As a (very) long time Dave's poster, I'm going to note that 'job placement' "promises" have always been described here as iffy. The only TEFL course providers who can actually back this up are the few who also run language schools. There used to be one in Prague that was this way (now closed) and IH is another fairly reputable one. A TEFL course that can hire its own trainees has some grounds to base such a promise on. Otherwise, it's well-known that 'job placement' really doesn't exist in the industry, and newbies who ask here in advance of taking a course are always informed of this - granted, by 'us,' who may or may not appear credible to the newbie, but better than nothing!!!
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