In Duluth, Minn., there's a doctor who has sued a patient's son because of unflattering comments made on an online review website. Legal challenges to online review sites, such as Angie's List, are rare. The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant is knowingly lying about the service.
Frankly, online reviews, whether for teachers, doctors, contractors, and others, are a reality of the digital age. In our opinion, these review sites more often serve a good purpose by providing one more solid reason for professionals to always act their best. Nevertheless, people should be responsible when utilizing the service. Any coordinated attempts to unjustly damage someone's reputation through the web should be resisted, legally if necessary.
The Internet, with blogs, comment sections, and reviews, allows opinions to go global. No longer is one person's opinion stopped at the breakfast table. With broadband, it has the potential to go viral.
With this power comes responsibility, whether grading a doctor, teacher, car model, or anything else. Most of us have at least one of the family -- if not ourselves -- who scan through product reviews for the next purchase of a car, computer, etc. And if serious online checking, and reviewing, improves performance for many, then that's a strong positive.
Still, be diligent when going through Yelp or other sites. Remember that one bad review for a doctor or a product does not cinch the deal. The best indicators of quality are trends in comments. In the "old days" that was referred to as "word of mouth."