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Dealing with Online Defamation

PostPosted: Wed Aug 10, 2016 1:21 pm
by Nate W.
Dear Forum,

I wanted to pass on some advice I learned for dealing with online employment defamation. With the advent of many online review sites, online defamation has become quite a problem for academic professors. There are sites where students or anyone with a grudge can rate one's job related performance. For example, there are sites where students can judge a professor's teaching ability. Colleges can even volunteer the names of their professors to these websites

Any negative or misleading information can be used against an academic transitioning to the private sector. It can be quite expensive to have an attorney to remove this information. There is another solution:

"Any employment related information is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting. Thus, the website must verify from the employer that the information posted is factually correct to ensure that defamation hasn't occurred. If the information can't be proven true, one must remove all information that can't be confirmed."

Tell the website company this.

Most employers, like a University, will not provide any information or even return the phone from the website company. Thus, the website will remove any negative opinions. This actually works and I have helped several teachers with this problem. The Fair Credit Act statute will supersede any qualified immunity of opinion that a student might claim.

Re: Dealing with Online Defamation

PostPosted: Mon Aug 15, 2016 8:16 am
by Steven Z.
There are quite a few PI's that deserve to have negative information published against them. As long as they have space to rebut like on a lot of consumer review sites I think that is fair.

I had a PI who I and another colleague put negative information about. He was a fairly lousy PI but the final straw was when one of my colleagues, who did leave on good terms, had a string of failed interviews so she hired a service to pose as an employer and check her reference and found that PI was saying just awful and untrue things about her. I found out he wasn't saying that great stuff about me either so we both found a site and put a warning about him to other prospective grad students and post-docs that was came up on google when you searched his name. It was eventually removed unfortunately.

Re: Dealing with Online Defamation

PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2016 8:55 am
by Parker
In my opinion, most online reviews are fairly accurate (assuming a decent number of reviewers) whether it is on Yelp, Travel Advisor, Glass Door or ratemyprofessor.com. The PIs that are rated 4.5/5.0 are truly exceptional ones and the ones rated 1.2/5.0 really are that bad. Usually the highly rated and loved ones have one or two people who hate their guts and the low rated ones have one or two reviewers who are quite enamoured. If I were subject to many horrible online reviews, I would take that as an opportunity to self-reflect and improve my skills (usually for lecturers, it's a problem with poor communication skills and with PIs, it is poor management). The poor communication and bad management skills will probably follow into the corporate world unless corrected. Unless I know for sure that the person leaving the bad review has a grudge (but how would I? it's anonymous), it's probably someone's honest opinion of my skills. You can still use whatever legal means to shut it down to solve your immediate problem to get employment in the private sector, etc. but it is probably better to address the underlying issue in the long term. After all, there are professors out there that get the 4.5+/5.0. What are they doing right that I'm missing?

Re: Dealing with Online Defamation

PostPosted: Sun Aug 21, 2016 1:29 pm
by Nate W.
Parker wrote:In my opinion, most online reviews are fairly accurate (assuming a decent number of reviewers) whether it is on Yelp, Travel Advisor, Glass Door or ratemyprofessor.com. The PIs that are rated 4.5/5.0 are truly exceptional ones and the ones rated 1.2/5.0 really are that bad. Usually the highly rated and loved ones have one or two people who hate their guts and the low rated ones have one or two reviewers who are quite enamoured. If I were subject to many horrible online reviews, I would take that as an opportunity to self-reflect and improve my skills (usually for lecturers, it's a problem with poor communication skills and with PIs, it is poor management). The poor communication and bad management skills will probably follow into the corporate world unless corrected. Unless I know for sure that the person leaving the bad review has a grudge (but how would I? it's anonymous), it's probably someone's honest opinion of my skills. You can still use whatever legal means to shut it down to solve your immediate problem to get employment in the private sector, etc. but it is probably better to address the underlying issue in the long term. After all, there are professors out there that get the 4.5+/5.0. What are they doing right that I'm missing?


I think you need a large sample size of constructive reviews before you can say anything meaningful. Many experienced professors with significant evaluations will often say the quality of the reviews will only reflect how well the student is doing in class. Further, many students only bubble in their responses and provide no constructive justification for why they feel the way they do. For example, the student says the teacher was confusing and demanding but never explains how. A suitable and written answer might be the lectures were poorly organized and references were never cited.

A certain fraction about 1/4 will not even fill out the surveys. When you compare the online reviews with classroom reviews, only a small fraction will go online to report their opinions and most of these surveys are negative. Most of the online surveys are negative and even incorrect when compared with the in-class surveys. Students reviews are highly variable from semester to semester and depends much on the maturity and quality of the student. Once, I saw a professor with 80% positive reviews fall to only 30% positive reviews the following semester. Where I teach, other professors evaluate your class twice a semester and we compare this with student comments. Still there are few trends and other than this correlation between a student's grade and their maturity and the quality of the review. This is a challenge to teachers in a community college system with open enrollment that mostly serves students from underserved local high schools or with many full time working adults w/o any background in biology.....especially for a science major's class.

We can catch some problems in instruction that are mostly minor and make corrections.


"What are they doing right that I'm missing?"


Most of the really good teachers are fair and maintain standards so they will have low student evaluations but high marks by their fellow teachers and department heads.


Grade inflation mostly! Most of the teachers with really high marks online have given in and tried to make the class so easy that I they get good evaluations. When the teachers try to maintain a standard, their students evaluations will suffer. There is a lot of grade inflation. Like I said this is tough for a lecturer in a school that has open enrollment and many poorly prepared students who are mostly working all day. Plus, this is a science major's class that will be transferred to 4 year colleges in the system; we have to prepare them for upper level classes; otherwise, we are doing them a disservice. I try to strike a balance and maintain an even a distribution of grades with a average between 72-80 for each semester.


Plus, we can't do anything unless the student comments are constructive. Most students don't know how serious these evaluations are taken and many students lack the maturity to make helpful remarks.

Re: Dealing with Online Defamation

PostPosted: Thu Aug 25, 2016 12:06 pm
by Dave Walker
Thanks for the interesting topic, Nate -- online reviews can resemble defamation and can be hazardous to one's career. Keeping tabs on one's "Googleability" is sound advice, and from a professional perspective I see nothing wrong with taking action against inflammatory speech if possible.

Philosophically, I can't get behind the idea that it's acceptable to express your opinion on a website with its own terms:

Steven Z. wrote:There are quite a few PI's that deserve to have negative information published against them. As long as they have space to rebut like on a lot of consumer review sites I think that is fair.


Parker wrote:In my opinion, most online reviews are fairly accurate (assuming a decent number of reviewers) whether it is on Yelp, Travel Advisor, Glass Door or ratemyprofessor.com.


Glassdoor is probably the most relevant example for this forum. It's a tool that might be of use, but (in my opinion) it's easy to forget that the data is anonymous and obviously not checked for accuracy. I think it encourages us to passively use its "data" instead of using our active skills: networking and negotiation.