Food Blogger Jailed For Saying Food Was Too Salty

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I’m doomed.

Or at least I would be if I lived in Taiwan, probably for a variety of reasons, but most recently because I’m a restaurant critic who will give a negative review to a restaurant that I feel deserves it.

As reported in the Huffington Post and in an article at CNET as well as the straightforward report from Taipei Times, a food blogger was sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years probation for a review that called a restaurant’s food too salty. The blogger, whose name is Liu, was also ordered to pay the equivalent of $6928 US to the owner of the restaurant in Taichung.

The July 2008 review also noted that there were cockroaches visible in the kitchen, a statement that was part of the owner’s complaint. However, inspectors subsequently verified that there were indeed cockroaches in the kitchen, so that part of the complaint was dismissed.

Looking more closely at the case, one sees that the restaurant owner felt wronged because Liu’s review was based on too small a sampling of food. To say that all the food is too salty after tasting one entree is not a responsible conclusion. The best one can say if the beef noodle dish one tastes is too salty is “the beef noodle dish I tasted was too salty.” So while the penalty seems extreme, the charges do not appear to have been unfounded.

Restaurant critics in the U.S. have always had tremendous leeway in their reviews. Restaurants have sued reviewers but the restaurant owner rarely wins. But now, with food blogging on the rise, and many of the reviewers without the legal backing of a major media conglomerate, I would expect to see more legal challenges to online reviews.

Orlando has a number of trusted food bloggers, so let me offer some tips for reviewing. First, always be fair. Give an accurate accounting of your experience, but unless you make multiple trips, don’t draw a blanket conclusion about food, service or sanitation. Be clear that what you are writing is your opinion based on your experience.

These are rules -- among many others -- that I always try to follow. But I think even I would feel a little sheepish these days about writing a negative review if I lived in Taiwan.

I sure as hell wouldn’t call my website a flog.

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