Referee factual disputes? Ask questions and weigh evidence and try to determine whether the allegations are true or not? Why would I want to do that?
Such is the dilemma at the heart of a piece in the business section of today’s New York Times about Yelp, the user-review site that lets people sound off about businesses in (currently) twenty-four cities. Some business owners—whose ads make the site possible—are now suggesting that Yelp has an obligation to sort fact from fiction in the reviews it hosts, or at the very least let an aggrieved business owner respond directly on the site. Here’s Peter Picataggio, a Los Angeles restaurateur, who claims that a Yelp review of his place contained factual inaccuracies:
If they’re going to take my money, I think the onus is on them, not on the business, to go and prove whether it’s true or false.
For its part, Yelp is standing (mostly) firm: “We can’t referee factual disputes,” says Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp’s CEO.
If we could convince someone to take on such a difficult, often thankless job, what would we call that person? We used to call them journalists.