Before You Post That Bad Review: “The legal settlement required Mr. Barnes to make a ‘sincere apology’ for his reviews.”

From a New York Times story by Richard C. Paddock headlined “He’s Sorry for His Bad Reviews. He May Now Avoid Prison.”:

BANGKOK — He’s very, very sorry. But the hotel in Thailand that threatened an American guest with prison for his bad reviews may end up with bigger regrets.

Wesley Barnes, the American guest, publicly apologized on Friday for his blunt online reviews of the Sea View Koh Chang resort in Thailand. In exchange, the hotel promised it would drop the complaint that led the authorities in Thailand to file criminal defamation charges against him.

More than wounded pride was on the line. In Thailand, criminal defamation charges can result in a prison term of up to two years. Mr. Barnes had already spent two days in jail after his arrest on those charges last month before posting bail.

The question now for the Sea View resort — and for Thailand’s tourism industry, which is struggling under the coronavirus travel freeze — is whether it can recover from the considerable damage its reputation has suffered by threatening Mr. Barnes with prison. The resort, on the Koh Chang island on Thailand’s southeastern coast, has been excoriated online for using the country’s tough defamation laws against a guest who didn’t enjoy his stay and decided to write about it.

Mr. Barnes struck a decidedly different tone on Friday, in a statement filled with stilted official language reminiscent of a forced confession.

“All of the statements that I made are completely untrue,” the statement said. “These reviews and comments were written out of anger and malice. Now, I, Mr. Barnes, have regretted my actions and would like to apologize to Sea View Koh Chang, and its staff.”

As required by the settlement with the hotel, Mr. Barnes also sent the statement to news outlets that covered his case, including The New York Times. He apologized “for my repeatedly false and untrue statements/reviews made to maliciously defame Sea View Koh Chang.”. . .

The dispute began in June when Mr. Barnes, a hotel guest, objected to paying what he saw as an excessive $15 corkage fee so that he could drink from a bottle of gin he had brought to the hotel restaurant. A manager eventually waived the fee.

Mr. Barnes said in a statement after his arrest that he saw the same manager later harshly criticizing an employee and concluded that “there was some master/slave mentality going on.”

That inspired him to post a series of negative reviews on TripAdvisor and Google, including one in which he wrote, “Avoid this place as if it was the Coronavirus!”

The hotel said it repeatedly asked him to take down the reviews and posted its own detailed rebuttals online. The hotel said it had no choice but to go to the police after Mr. Barnes ignored their requests. . . .

The settlement required Mr. Barnes to make a “sincere apology” for his reviews, including for mention of “using slave labor, xenophobic comments against hotel staff, and comparing the hotel to coronavirus on multiple occasions and website platforms.”

In his statement, Mr. Barnes expressed gratitude to the hotel for allowing him to avoid prison.

“The hotel has forgiven me and agreed to withdraw the complaint,” the statement said. “I would like to sincerely thank the hotel and its staff and take this opportunity to announce this news to the general public.”

Richard C. Paddock has worked as a foreign correspondent in 50 countries on five continents with postings in Moscow, Jakarta, Singapore and Bangkok. He has spent nearly a dozen years reporting on Southeast Asia, which he has covered since 2016 as a contributor to The New York Times.

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