A blogger in France has been fined by a judge after her negative restaurant review was contested by the owners of the il Girdino restaurant in Aquitaine, France.
Caroline Doudet was ordered to pay €1,500 ($2,000; £1,200) in damages by the court after it was found her blog post, titled: “The place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino”, was too prominent in Google search, appearing 4th on a list when people searched for the restaurant’s name.
On top of damages, Doudet was ordered to change the title of her post, the text that first appears when the page appears on google. The judge rules that the term "the place to avoid” should be made less prominent in searches by being removed from the title.
Speaking to the BBC after the hearing, Doudet said: "This decision creates a new crime of 'being too highly ranked [on a search engine]', or of having too great an influence’,” adding: "What is perverse, is that we look for bloggers who are influential, but only if they are nice about people.”
The owner of the restaurant is reported to have said: "Maybe there were some errors in the service, that happens sometimes in the middle of August - I recognise that. But this article showed in the Google search results and did my business more and more harm, even though we have worked seven days a week for 15 years. I could not accept that.
"People can criticise, but there is a way of doing it - with respect. That was not the case here." The original article, now deleted, had complained about a meal at the restaurant back in August 2013. It spoke about poor service and the poor attitude of the owner.
There has been a number of complaints against the decision, with many people seeing it as an act of censorship. A case like this in the U.S would most probably be quashed by First Amendment rights and, unless it could be proven that the post was defamatory, there seems little precedent for the judge to make the ruling he has.
The BBC spoke with the French law blogger Maître Eolas who said: "It seems to me that the judge did not understand the technical issues." expelling that the case in would not create legal precedence. In fact, rather than applying any particular law, the Judge has used an emergency order which allows him to force a person to cease activity that is harming the other party in the dispute.
The only way to see if the decision would be upheld in court would be to appeal and go for a full hearing, a line that Doudet has said she does not want to pursue.
The case raises a number of interesting angles concerning freedom of speech, overly negative reviews and whether the influence of a blogger should be a factor when deciding if reviews should be change. What do you think? Is the decision correct?
S.Pellegrino and Food for Soul, the non-profit organisation founded by Lara Gilmore and chef Massimo Bottura, form a new global partnership to drive social and environmental change and promote a sustainable food culture.