No, An American Didn’t Face Jail Time Just For A Bad Review
Despite the clickbait titles exploding on the internet lately, an American did NOT face jail time “just for a bad review”. I want to take a deeper look at this, since it’s flooding every travel site lately with the idea that simply writing “bad service, won’t return” could put someone’s life/freedom in danger. Let’s dig deeper, because an American absolutely did not face jail time in Thailand “just because he wrote a bad review on TripAdvisor!!!”.
An expat living and working in Thailand went to a hotel restaurant. That part everyone acknowledges. After some arguing with staff, this man went online and left some really bad reviews. Again, everyone is on the same page. So what’s the deal?
He was a jerk from the start.
This guy brought his own alcohol with him and demanded the staff open and serve it to him for no fee. The staff finally relented, after the guy created a huge scene. The American expat was verbally abusive toward staff when they tried to charge him the 500 Baht ($16.56 USD) corkage fee. The food & beverage manager intervened and waived the fee so the customer would calm down and stop creating a scene.
He broke TripAdvisor rules in his reviews.
Creating multiple accounts so you can post multiple reviews is against the rules. Also, using your reviews to intentionally attack people with no legitimate “review” in the material is against TripAdvisor rules. His first review was removed because of this.
He broke Thai laws in his reviews.
Here’s where “I’d do the same” comes into play. In one of his reviews, flagged & removed by TripAdvisor, the restaurant guest in question accused the business of participating in modern-day slavery. Accusing a business of crimes is pretty serious. Doing it just because your feelings were hurt, but you have no evidence for this claim, is defamation. And in Thailand, this is illegal. Agree or disagree with this, living in Thailand requires this man to follow the local laws.
And imagine you’re this business. Some guy comes in, acts like a jerk, you give in so he’ll calm down, and then he attacks you and tries to destroy your business online. Wouldn’t you get lawyers involved? Defend your rights? Try to protect your business from someone seeking to destroy it via online tantrums? Call the police if you think this behavior is illegal? I would.
He had chances to fix it.
According to all reports available, the hotel made multiple attempts to reach the offending expat. They told him they wouldn’t start a legal process if he would take down his reviews and just say “sorry”. Seems pretty simple. I find that totally fair. The reviewer/hotel guest simply refused to communicate or participate in any of this mediation.
Legal case begins.
So, the hotel did what was within their rights and called the police / their lawyers. After 2 days in jail, the American expat posted bail of 100,000 Baht ($3165 USD). He faced up to 2 years in jail as the maximum penalty, if convicted. The hotel continued to tell the guest that they would drop the charges if he would remove his reviews and apologize.
TripAdvisor Joins In
TripAdvisor paid the man’s legal fees and helped mediate between him and the hotel/restaurant. After an apology, the hotel then dropped the charges. Part of the agreement included the hotel asking for a guarantee they wouldn’t be red-flagged on TripAdvisor.
True to its word, TripAdvisor did not red flag the hotel. Instead, however, they posted a warning on the page of the hotel/restaurant:
“This hotel or individuals associated with this hotel filed criminal charges against a Tripadvisor user in relation to the traveler writing and posting online reviews. The reviewer spent time in jail as a result. Tripadvisor serves its users best when travelers are free to share their opinions and experiences on our platform – both positive and negative. The hotel may have been exercising its legal rights under local law, however, it is our role to inform you so you may take this into consideration when researching your travel plans.”
Why I Have 0 Sympathy For This Guy
Despite all of the headlines amounting to “he went to jail just for leaving 1 star! OMG!” there is obviously a lot more going on here. The customer was a jerk from the outset, another person at his table apologized to staff for his behavior, and the hotel even gave in to his demands. Then, he violated TripAdvisor rules (multiple accounts) and broke the law (accusation of crimes/defamation). I’m actually super surprised TripAdvisor stepped in to support a bully.
In fact, I’m disappointed they supported someone who broke their rules and the law via their platform. And I find it laughable that TripAdvisor says “Tripadvisor serves its users best when travelers are free to share their opinions and experiences on our platform – both positive and negative.” I don’t think anyone who reads the details believes a guest had problems simply for sharing an honest review. He was free to share his experience–but he didn’t share that. Though the headlines make it sound like he left honest (but bad) feedback and got into trouble for it, he left dishonest and illegal feedback, and that’s the problem. I’d do the exact same as the hotel if put in a similar situation. I bet most people would, too, if they dig into it. You can write “bad service, won’t visit again” for any place you visit. That isn’t what this guy did.
No, an American expat in Thailand didn’t face jail time just for writing a 1-star review. And no he didn’t just share his honest opinion then go to jail over it. He made up lies, accused the hotel of crimes, and he wound up in hot water. The guest was a bully, to be blunt. This isn’t about “free speech”, because “free speech” doesn’t give you permission to try to destroy a business by accusing them of crimes and writing fake reviews under multiple accounts. In the end, the hotel was within its rights defending itself against a law-breaking customer. The new label on their reviews page misrepresents the hotel and the situation, as if they attacked a customer for an honest but bad review. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Thailand is an awesome place, and I hope this exaggerated situation with clickbait news titles popping up lately doesn’t dissuade you from visiting. We have a ton of reviews about things in Thailand and have never faced legal or TripAdvisor problems for writing honest (even if negative) reviews of anything in Thailand.