I’ve been hosting a ColdFusion ISP list for many years now. The application was given a Flex overhaul a while back, but that aside it is the same core list and code that has been online since the late 90s. There is a lot of data in the list, none of which I create. Rather, hosting companies can create and manage their own listings, and users can rate hosting companies.
While I don’t manage any of the listings, I do manually approve them. Every once in awhile someone will add a bogus listing, and while I do not perform any due diligence to check out the listed companies, I do kill any listings that are obviously not authentic. The same applies to comments and reviews. These are not automatically posted, rather I approve each one, killing those with e-mail addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or with comments like “you suck”, and so on. The only other time I get involved is to remove listing of companies no longer in business when I am made aware of them.
And as a rule I do not delete comments. Yes, I am sure that there are some that are fake or flat out wrong, but there is no way I can really verify that, and so unless a comment is obscene or obviously someone messing around, they stay listed. If a hosting company does not like a comment they are more than welcome to post a follow-up, and many have indeed done so.
Over the years I have occasionally received requests from hosting companies to remove comments and negative feedback. I do look at each of these requests, and generally apply the previously stated positioning. I have deleted a few that I never should have approved in the first place, but generally I leave what is listed online.
There is a precedent here. eBay, for example, generally never removes feedback, but they allow recipients to post responses. Amazon.com generally does the same, not removing reviews unless there is a very compelling reason to do so.
But is this the right position to take? What is my responsibility here, if any? The reason I ask now is that a particular hosting company has been asking me to remove comments that they consider to be slanderous and libelous for a couple of years now, and they just sent me an e-mail asking me to do so again. Amongst the complaints are assertions that the comments were posted by individuals whom they claim were never even customers. Of course, I have no way to know that one way or the other. So, if you were in my shoes, what would you do? Should I remove negative feedback any time a hosting company asks me to? Wouldn’t that defeat the entire purpose of allowing feedback?
I’d love your comments on this one.