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Trigger situation for this question: someone asked for a doctor recommendation on a WhatsApp group with 200+ members. When a particular doctor was mentioned, one of the members wrote he had a bad experience with this particular doctor and wasn't recommending it. That person could have chosen to interact 1-1 with the requester but decided to inform everyone to discourage them since he thinks this doctor made a professional mistake when treating him.

Is this lashon hara?

Without addressing this particular situation, since whatever happened happened, are there circumstances where it might be allowed to publicize a negative experience with a service provider to discourage other people from using him?

Does it make a difference if one tells the specific person who has a "need to know" vs. a broader group of people who might one day need this particular service provider?

And is there a need to have a factual basis confirming the poor experience? (e.g., an insurance claim that was paid, a second doctor that would have confirmed it?) or is it all in the eyes of the client?

Assume everyone is Jewish if that makes a difference. And I'm of course interested in halachic sources vs. only personal opinions.

  • related: Lashon Harah for anonymous to'eles but the above is hopefully different in a number of dimensions, e.g., the above relates to answers to a specific question and asks if there is a difference between 1-1 answers vs. group answers – mbloch Jun 27 '18 at 15:14
  • I think that the deciding factor would be if the doctor did something that really could affect others. If someone has a sore throat and the doctor prescribes a drug. It doesn't work & the patient develops pneumonia. So he tells everyone the dr. misdiagnosed the problem. It's unique to him and his analysis may be false and non-applicable to others. – DanF Jun 27 '18 at 16:03
  • Generally, on-line doctor reviews are often done with the doctor's knowledge. E.g. WebMD and ZocDoc, are doctors' listing sites. A doctor will place his name there to get noticed. By doing so, they also know that the public will comment on them - good or bad. Thus, it's "fair game", I believe. They're taking a risk that the number of good ratings will outweigh the bad ones. In such cases, I don't think any bad comment is LH. – DanF Jun 27 '18 at 16:08
  • @DanF There are certainly gray areas though. I once had a doctor who insisted I didn’t have a particular problem, and even after getting a different test run, followed by a surgery, to confirm that I indeed had that particular problem, he still insisted that I didn’t have that problem. If this is an attitude he has to patients in general, and someone has an issue that was life threatening (BH not in my case), that’s the Maharsha’s understanding of טוב שברופאים לגיהנם. Perhaps in such a case one should at least send out a warning to be cautious. – DonielF Jun 27 '18 at 16:09
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    Wouldn't this be lashon hara l'toeles? – ezra Jun 27 '18 at 16:12
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Short answer: it probably was Lashon Hora.

Long answer: this is very subjective, and very much depends on the specific details of each case. There's a big difference between the extremes on one end where 'this person literally stabs every one of his customers' and the other end of 'he fixed our A/C and it was supposed to last for ten years but broke after only nine and a half'. Most cases lie somewhere in the middle, upon which every detail of the situation could change the Halacha.

The Chafetz Chaim gives 7 rules for when speaking Lashon Hora is permitted (in Hilchos Lashon Hora 10:1-2, translation from the first result when I searched 'loshon hora rules of toelet'):

  1. One must be absolutely certain that the information is accurate. Either one had to have witnessed the incident himself, or he investigated the report and found it to be accurate. If one has second-hand negative information which he wishes to relate for a constructive purpose, he must make it clear that his words are based on hearsay.

  2. One must think the matter through and be sure that a wrong has actually been committed. Sometimes, what one may think is a misdeed may in fact be permitted by halachah. One must be certain that his information and his interpretation of the information are correct before the information can be related.

  3. One must first approach the wrongdoer and attempt to persuade him to rectify his behavior. For example: A storekeeper was seen cheating a customer. The first step would be to speak to the storekeeper and try to persuade him to return the money. Only after this fails should one consider informing the customer that he was cheated.

  4. One is not permitted to exaggerate in any way. This can be especially difficult in a situation where one is relating information regarding an emotional issue.

  5. One’s intention must be solely to help the person who is being victimized. If one harbors any ill will toward the subject of the report, then he is not permitted to relate it for a constructive reason. (Of course, one should make every effort to rid oneself of such ill will.) For example, for a storekeeper to tell a potential customer about his competitor’s wrongdoing would have the likely effect of drawing this customer into his own store. In that case, the discussion would be forbidden. In a case where one has constructive negative information to relate but feels that he has a personal interest in the matter, it would be advisable for him to consult a rav (rabbi).

  6. If one can effect the same result without speaking loshon hora, then he must use that option. If one wants to warn a friend not to shop in a certain store because of the proprietor’s dishonesty, and there is a way to convince him to shop elsewhere without speaking badly of the proprietor, then that option must be used.

  7. One is not allowed to convey the information if this will result in the subject suffering a greater loss than the halachah allows.

The specific (albeit quite vague) situation mentioned in the question likely violates several of these precepts:

  • Number 6 is likely violated. Many situations could be resolved with something along the lines of 'X is a good option' as opposed to 'Y is a bad option'.
  • Number 7 is likely violated. It's unlikely that everyone in the group needs to be aware of the information, and the fact that it's something that might be of use in a vague manner some time in the future likely spills over in to the realm of an innapropriate damage to the service provider.
  • Number 5 is probably violated too. The person relaying the information was personally affected in a negative manner by the service provider, so he likely has ill will towards him.
  • (Number 2 may have been violated, but that can't really be known without a thorough understanding of the situation and the person relaying the information. In most situations, there are two sides to every story, and the person relaying the information likely only shared his own side. Number 4 is also something that may have been violated, but that as well depends on the details)

And in closing, I want to stress again that every case is different and the rules of Toelet are very fluid construct where every detail can affect what the practical Halacha is. However, the Chafetz Chaim gave a pretty comprehensive set of rules, and they can often be applied to a large range of cases with a bit of thought.

  • Many thanks - and indeed I was looking for the general rules - not the specifics for my trigger case – mbloch Jun 27 '18 at 17:02
  • Good question and answer. I'll probably need to ask a follow up related to typical consumer review sites where the provider expects comments. E.g. Yelp and Google. – DanF Jun 27 '18 at 17:59
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    @DanF Does the provider really expect negative comments on those sites? Is he really giving permission for people to write about him just because there are outlets out there that give people a platform to give their opinion? One can't eat a cheeseburger just because there is a McDonalds on the street, why should one be allowed to write Lashon Hora just because there's a 'Loshon Hora Ledger' on his screen? Now, if the provider says 'please write an honest review for us on a cerain site', that would be a different case, he might be giving permission for people to write (even negately) about him. – Salmononius2 Jun 27 '18 at 18:09
  • @Salmononius2 I just posted a follow-up question. And, yes, I think that by the fact that you post your business, means that you are taking a risk on getting negatives. Besides, negatives can be useful as well. – DanF Jun 27 '18 at 18:11
  • @DanF Most of those sites, the business owner isn't the one who puts his business up on Google or Yelp (the Google just knows everything all on its' own :P ). If you're referring to the mere fact that one has a business opens himself up to critique, that clearly can't be true, since then there would almost never be a situation of Lahon Hora against a business (which isn't the case). – Salmononius2 Jun 27 '18 at 18:14

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