Unvarnished: A forum to review others or defamation lawsuits waiting to happen?

Unvarnished is a new site that allows people to "review" each other - anonymously. Could it open the floodgates to defamation lawsuits?

If you've ever wanted to anonymously shout from rooftops that your supervisor is an idiot, that the boss is corrupt or that your co-worker is sleeping her way to the top, a new "social" network wants to be your sounding board.

But watch out, a forum like this is sure to raise red flags everywhere. And certainly, there are some lawyers out there who are already practicing how to spell "defamation."

The forum is called Unvarnished, a new site that's still so early that's in invitation-only. I hadn't heard of it before it was profiled on a TechCrunch post this week - and frankly, now that I have heard of it, I don't think I want any part of it.

I'm actually not afraid to hear what people have to say about me - some have put some pretty choice words into an email, several have said some pretty harsh things in the talkbacks of this blog and I've had my share of face-to-face confrontations over the years, as well. But do I really want people to have a forum to share all of the "Sam is a jerk" stories they may have.

In a video interview with TechCrunch (embedded on its post), co-founder Peter Kazanjy explains that we all have a forum already for praising and/or bashing others - blogs. If I wanted to, I could start a "Jane Doe is a Tramp" blog - but 1) no one would really see it and 2) now Jane's lawyers can come chasing after me for damaging her reputation.

Think of Unvarnished as a cross between LinkedIn and Yelp, where people can post "reviews" about you - both good and bad. Yes, our reputations are already being outsourced to others - that's clear on LinkedIn, where we encourage our professional contacts to post their thoughts about us, hoping of course that those thoughts will all be as sweet as sugar.

Of course, if there are bad reviews, you'd want to be able to remove them, right? Not on Unvarnished, though. They stay put - though, you and others are given a chance to respond to them. Sure, some might say that I'm slow to respond to e-mail or that I was even a jerk when they call me while I'm under the gun of a deadline. But what about the ones who say that I'm incompetent in my job or that I'm stealing from the company.

The question is: where's the legal line? At what point does a comment about someone's ability to do a job or even just personal reputation become bait for a defamation lawsuit? And if those comments are posted anonymously, does that leave the site on the legal hot seat.

Here's hoping that the lawyers retained by Unvarnished have already researched the answers to those questions.

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