General Question

mirifique's avatar

Is anyone else freaked out by the Yelp-for-people site getunvarnished.com?

Asked by mirifique (1511 points ) May 12th, 2010

I am raising a lot of questions here, and I apologize in advance for flexing Fluther’s guidelines a bit, but I think this is a critical issue and would like to get everyone’s input. If you haven’t heard of getunvarnished.com, check out this article and this one. Basically, this is Yelp.com for people. People! Using real names! Maybe your real name! While oriented towards employers/employees, anyone can leave anonymous reviews of anyone, and you cannot opt-out if someone leaves you a negative review. Coworkers.com launched a similar idea, wherein you can track your performance by opting-in to the service and having supervisors comment and rate your performance, but getunvarnished.com is open to anyone (although it is still in beta testing now, so you’ll need an invite, which means that people might already be slandering you and you wouldn’t know about it, or be able to do anything about it).

Frankly, this site epitomizes everything tragic and counterintuitive about “Web 3.0” and social networking. The “beauty” of Facebook is that you have control over who writes on your wall and what information is out there (although it is somewhat dubious how that information is ultimately used). But this is a whole different can of worms. Not only does it allow coworkers with vendettas to leave pernicious, indelible comments about basically anything about you, but it allows anyone with whom you may have had a spat—online or not—to potentially ruin your career, relationships, etc. even if they are not true.

Getunvarnished allows you to respond to negative posts, similar to how Amazon allows negative ratings of sellers to respond to negative ratings. But what legal remedies does one have if slandered on this site? Is it worth filing a lawsuit against a reviewer who simply states you are unintelligent or untrustworthy? What is the legal test for proving a single comment impacted your reputation in a community? And how do you prove their comments are based on falsehoods? How does one prove one is not unintelligent? Will there be a point that we reach, like many of us have with Facebook, where we simply do not care who has our information?

We might have had to deal with rumors, gossip, etc. before in our private social lives, but we have the social tools to deal with them: since the rumors and slander are confined to a distinct network, we can disqualify certain comments based on the slanderer’s reputation or character as it is known within a particular social context. We can also confront a person directly if we found out they were trashing us. However, we don’t yet (I believe) possess the social skills, nor the legal or operational mechanisms, to deal with e-rumors and e-slander. Getunvarnished seeks to establish this same social process for credibility by using “trust” scores akin to Amazon.com reviewers’ credibility scores, which are based on how useful users found a particular review. But, seriously, really? We’re dealing with people here.

Let’s say you went out on a blind date with someone you encountered through an online dating site. Before the end of the date, you know each other’s full names and quite a bit of personal information; what, then, is to prevent them from feeling a bit vengeful after you don’t call them back, posing as a “co-worker” and leaving a retaliatory, yet credible post (as they have the personal experience with you and some personal background) on this site, albeit as an anonymous reviewer? What if you dated the person for more than a few weeks, and you dumped them? And, you know, what if they were maybe more than a little bit crazy?

I’m not a particularly distrusting person when it comes to my feelings for other people, but I do know that humans succumb to specific types of impulses online, they make irrational decisions, and they do not always have the foresight to predict the ramifications of these decisions. However, until now, these ramifications, generally speaking, impacted themselves only.

To answer my own question, I think these reviewing principles don’t, can’t and shouldn’t apply to people. I’m sorry. Are sites like this inevitable? I believe people’s lives can be ruined through sites like this, and this may be an area where new legislation regarding e-slander is the only means by which protection can be afforded. This site may have the best intentions as a potential tool to be used by employers, but the risk is enormous that the site will metastasize far beyond the professional world, causing pain much worse than simply preventing people being hired ever again.

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27 Answers

XOIIO's avatar

I think that is really stupid, people do deserve some repect. Although it probably attracts the kind of people who use FML to laught at peoples misery, it seems a bit much.—Although I do like FML—

That site seems rediculous and useless, and I am never going to use it.—Unless there is a wet T-shirt section, that is.—
I pose an addition to your question, what would you do if you found your picture on that site, with hundreds of people laughing about it?

Seaofclouds's avatar

That sounds like a horrible idea to me. I really don’t like the idea that someone can set up an account for anyone they want to and then you can’t remove it. I can see that leading to a lot of issues over privacy concerns.

lilikoi's avatar

I don’t really care. If you want to slander me, prepare to be slapped with a lawsuit, because I will take you to court, and yes, I will win.

It would seem that celebrities have faced this problem for a long time with paparazzi and tabloids.

And with the laws written the way they are now, companies are people and people are companies. You’re allowed to rate companies and services provided by individuals (I go out of my way to rate medical practitioners on Yelp because people deserve to know, dammit!), so rating employers and employees seems like a natural progression.

In the professional world, I hope most people are wise enough to know that you shouldn’t publicly rant about private affairs. And that what you read by some anonymous internet troll is not necessarily true.

I’d be wary of anyone that bothered to take the time to rate individual people and I’d wonder why they didn’t have anything better to do.

Mamradpivo's avatar

In general, I believe we live in a world where our notions of privacy haven’t caught up with our technology. Think of Facebook, think of Twitter, think of Yelp. Privacy is a quaint notion in a world of instantaneous spouting off.

I feel like this Millennial generation will eventually figure out what ought be private and what ought be public. But until then, we’re going to keep going to the Internet for more and more dirt on everything and everyone. After all: it must be true, I read it online.

mirifique's avatar

@Mamradpivo But when I think of privacy I think of the individual’s right to keep personal information to themselves. What about when another person wants to share, publicly, their personal opinion about you?

Seaofclouds's avatar

My main concern about privacy is someone else making a profile for me. To me, that’s impersonation. You should only be able to make profiles for yourself.

Response moderated
mirifique's avatar

@Seaofclouds Did you read the articles? I’m not sure if you’re understanding the structure of the site.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@mirifique Yes I did. The part that I’m most concerned about is someone making a profile for me. According to one the the articles you linked, people can make a profile about anyone you want. That’s what bothers me the most. I get that they aren’t impersonating me, but I think being able to create a profile for me on a site I didn’t agree to is a form of impersonation (or maybe there’s a better word that I am not thinking of right now). I think that if I don’t want a profile on a site, I shouldn’t have a profile on that site. I think it’s wrong that someone else can make a profile about me (and possibly post private information about me without my permission).

mirifique's avatar

@Seaofclouds Yes, exactly, okay. Fluther lawyers, do we have any legal remedies for impersonation or slander within the context of this site?

Evan's avatar

I agree that the picture you’ve painted is pretty bleak, and I definitely would have some serious issues with slander, especially if it turns out that it had been going on within a closed site to which I’d had no access for some (or any) period of time, and therefore had no opportunity to respond to such slander.

On the flip side, it seems hard to imagine that the creators of this site wouldn’t have at least thought (to some degree) about this issue, and have built in some sort of safeguards. Also, it may be that the beta will highlight some of these issues, and lead to further safeguards.

On the one hand, I can certainly see the market for a site like this, but I definitely have a lot of mixed feelings about the inability to opt-out of such a service…

mirifique's avatar

@Evan Agreed. I think the site would be much more effective as an opt-in service.

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t like the idea. Do you think this really has anything to do with Yelp? I don’t see any actual connection between the two.

mirifique's avatar

@YARNLADY Yes, it does. Did you read the articles?

YARNLADY's avatar

@mirifique Yes, but what I see is Yelp – like or the name being used as a generic term standing for a ‘people review’ site. I still don’t see a direct link.

Yelp was founded by Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons and Unvarnished is founded by Peter Kazanjy – based on the Yelp idea, but there is no actual connection between the two.

mirifique's avatar

Well, on Yelp.com you review restaurants or businesses. On Getunvarnished.com, you review people. Not sure I get why you’re confused.

YARNLADY's avatar

@mirifique I’m not confused – I’m saying there is no connection between the two. Yelp has absolutely nothing to do with Getunvarnished. It is pretty much an insult to call Getunvarnished a Yelp.com site.

mirifique's avatar

@YARNLADY Yes, there’s no business connection between the two, but Getunvarnished utilizes same exact concept as Yelp does.

Buttonstc's avatar

A few years ago there was a similar site started for feedback on people whom one has dated. I can’t remember the exact name right now but it caused a real furor for similar issues which you cited here.

I’m not sure if it is still operational as I’ve heard or read nothing further than the original outrage.

But there’s something I wondered about at the time and still wonder about now.

If there is one person with an axe to grind against you posting all kinds of outrageous stuff and even outright lies about you, wouldn’t this eventually come to light when significat numbers of other co-workers of yours gave accurate assessments of you?

Conversely, if there is someone who truly is a jackass and treats most of his co-workers with spite, deceit or disrespect (or whatever the case may be) shouldn’t that also be brought to light?

In the same manner that horrible businesses develop a bad reputation from numerous poor reviews, the same would be true for horrible people.

One person’s crappy review of a business is not the determining factor.

If you truly treat others in the workplace fairly, is one nutbar with a grudge going to carry the day or get you fired? If any boss is stupid enough to take the word of one negative persons rantings and base decisions on that, I’d be glad to no longer have to work for a dimwit like that.

I’m not saying that I think this website is necessarily the best idea in the world, but I wonder how much damage one grudge carrier can do.

For all of us, to one degree or another, just as in real life, our reputation precedes us. So if there is no truth to the rantings of one person with an axe to grind, that would be overwhelmed by the positive testimonies of multiple acquaintances and co-workers.

I don’t applaud a site such as this, but I can’t help but wonder if there is as much danger as some may fear.

If you have a good reputation among your colleagues, I can’t help but think that that will win out in the long run and expose the defamer for what he/she truly is.

But it’s a two edged sword. If someone is an all around douchebag, that will also be revealed.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Buttonstc I could see the good outweighing the bad if you knew that a profile had been made about you and you got other’s to contribute to it as well. However, if you don’t even know it’s there, and other people don’t even know it’s there, the person writing the bad stuff could be the only one writing anything about you.

Buttonstc's avatar

Well I guess that’s similar to the old conundrum of: If a tree falls in a deserted forest, does anyone hear it?

If I was unaware, and everyone else who mattered to my life in any way were similarly unaware of this “profile” created about me, does it really matter?

Presumably if anyone who impacts my life or matters to me in any way encounters it, I would then be told about it and then would no longer be unaware.

If nobody significant to my life ever sees it, I don’t see any reason for me to care one way or another.

Do you see what I’m getting at here?

I also know that most celebrities or other types of public figures or heads of corporations, etc have hired a company or person who specializes in tracking all mentions online and various forms of media as well.

If anything slanderous or unproven is mentioned, rest assured that they’ll be getting a letter from an Attorney in the near future.

And that makes sense to me cuz there are all sorts of dimwits out there with way too much time on their hands.

But for the average person toiling in relative obscurity ?

Meh…..?

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Buttonstc I do see what you are getting at, but as an Army spouse that move all around the country and has to find new jobs in each place, someone in the hiring process in the next state we are stationed at could be on there and find that information about me. That is why I care.

Buttonstc's avatar

I get your point also but to answer the original Q posed, I don’t know that it’s something to get that freaked out about since it’s not something you have much direct control over.

If you’re that concerned tho, why not create a profile for yourself and send an email link to it to any past employers or co-workers asking them to post their honest impressions of you.

It’s pretty common nowadays for employers to go to Google to check out prospective employees in addition to the usual type of background checks on credit and criminal history, etc

But I doubt they would take seriously the anonymous info from a site like this. They are far more concerned about anything cropping up in the standard background check which is usually factual and verifiable.

The thing that most frequently trips people up (especially clueless younger folks) is ridiculous stuff they’ve posted to THEIR OWN social media site profiles.

Typically stuff like pics of them drunk and acting like idiots or bragging about their sexual promiscuity ( even if jokingly )

They did a segment about this on a recent show and they spoke to real life recruiters and job screeners. Even tho it may have been obvious that some of the sexual stuff was joking around, the general impression created was of extremely poor judgement. This is not a good quality to have when applying for a position of responsibility.

If these guys could find this stuff in a simple Google search, so could their company’s clients or parents of a prospective teacher’s students.

Most of what comes up in an Internet search is people shooting their own selves in the foot with the stupid stuff they themselves put up.

I’m assuming you’re far too sensible for that type of nonsense :)

As I said before, if some boss is stupid enough to ascribe any credibility to anon. postings from a site like that, it’s someone too stupid for me to be working for. Most are smart enough to ignore garbage from anonymous dimwits with a grudge or too much time on their hands.

Truth, like cream, usually rises to the top.

janbb's avatar

I read an article over the weekend about a similar site called Formspring.com in which teenagers are slammed by others and a great deal of pain is caused. There is also the site ratemyprofessor.com in which students “evaluate” profs (at least on that site you are getting a range of reactions.) At some point as a society, we are going to have to deal with issues of privacy and slander on the internet; I suspect it will be caused more by teen suicide than by people not getting jobs, but it is the same issue.

mirifique's avatar

@Buttonstc I think the expression goes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Buttonstc's avatar

Yeah, good catch. I knew it was something like that but couldn’t remember the precise wording but the general idea is the same :)

@Jan. You’re absolutely right about the horrendous damage potential by teens who are cyberstalking someone with rumor and outright lies, some leading to suicide.

Unfortunately, they don’t even need websites like that to do it as there are so many other outlets for that such as IM services and even FB.

I agree that some intervention is necessary but it’s really difficult to tackle as most parents and other adults in authority are totally unaware until after the fact. Really so sad and unfortunate.

janbb's avatar

Agreed.

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