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Doctors take on Google: Japanese physicians sue Google Maps for not acting against racist reviews

Fed up with fake reviews and the inability to respond to them or have them addressed by Google Maps, approximately 60 doctors in Japan are suing the tech giant for not acting against racist comments and reviews posted against them.

Several physicians and healthcare workers are alleging that Google has repeatedly ignored negative and racist reviews of their clinics that have no basis in reality. Through this class-action lawsuit, said to be the first of its kind in Japan, the petitioners are seeking 1.4 million yen or about $9,000 in damages from the tech giant, as per a report by AFP.

The doctors filed the lawsuit on Thursday, stating they were not given an opportunity or a platform to address or refute defamatory reviews due to their obligation to patient confidentiality. One doctor, speaking anonymously, expressed frustration, likening the situation to a “punching bag” for anonymous online users.

Casteism isn’t directly applicable to Japan, but historical divisions akin to caste structures existed, notably among samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants. Contemporary Japanese society is more fluid, with social status influenced by education, occupation, wealth, and family background.

However, vestiges of historical class divisions persist, particularly in certain professions or industries. Discrimination against groups like the Burakumin, historically associated with “impure” occupations, reflects lingering social prejudices. Legal reforms have aimed to address such discrimination, yet societal stigmas endure.

While Japan lacks a direct equivalent to casteism, issues of social stratification and discrimination against marginalized groups persist, though in evolving forms.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Yuichi Nakazawa, the ease of posting online reviews has made it challenging to have them removed, leading to doctors working under constant fear of negative feedback. What has been more problematic, though, is that certain users have repeatedly left racist and casteist comments on the clinic’s Google listing. This fear, the plaintiffs argue, can impact their ability to provide proper medical care.

The complaint also highlights that clinics focused solely on satisfying patients may compromise medical standards. Additionally, doctors may face personal attacks from patients, further exacerbating the issue.

If left unaddressed, the plaintiffs warn, doctors may feel pressured to comply with patients’ requests for unnecessary treatments or medications, ultimately harming society’s well-being.

Given Google Maps’ widespread use in Japan, the plaintiffs argue that the platform plays a crucial role in daily life and should recognize the negative impact of unfair reviews on medical businesses.

While Google claims to remove inaccurate and misleading content, the plaintiffs allege that the removal criteria are unclear and that only a few reviews have actually been deleted.

In response, Google stated that it is working to reduce inaccurate and misleading content on Google Maps using a combination of human operators and computer algorithms.

However, the company’s efforts have not satisfied the plaintiffs, who continue to seek accountability for the harm caused by harmful reviews of their professional reputations.

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