What Happens When You Go into a Dispute with Fiverr? Or: the Future of Justice Systems

Last week, Yam Mesicka from Israel ordered a cover photo for his web site from a Fiverr seller. He requested that the gig be done in 24 hours, asked for the PSD file, and added a few other extras for a final bill of $80. Yam then sat back and relaxed, knowing that in 24 hours he will receive what he has paid for.

Twenty four hours later, he was still waiting. Agitated and under time pressure, he considered cancelling his order, but found out he could only do that after 48 hours had passed. So he waited some more, and on the 47th hour, he received the finished product, which was extremely shoddy and amateurish in his view.

Yam told the seller he wanted a refund. The seller did not consent. Yam turned to Fiverr for help, and after four days was told that he should ask the seller to cancel the deal. He explained to the representative that he tried to reason with the seller to no avail, at which point she patiently encouraged him to continue negotiating.

That was the point when Yam broke down and realized the salvation was not going to come from Fiverr’s management. Instead, he turned to the PayPal account from which he was supposed to pay the bill, and opened a dispute with Fiverr, explaining that they did not give him the return for his money. A short time later, he received a mail from Fiverr telling him that his Fiverr account was now blocked, and asking him to cancel the dispute. In other words, Fiverr was essentially trying to force Yam’s hand in a dispute he had against a single seller, which Fiverr’s representative allegedly refused to solve herself.

Yam’s story is still developing, and Fiverr has not replied to my request that they comment on it. But there is at least one lesson we can learn from it, about the future of justice systems in the world and how citizens turn from governmental justice systems – i.e. courts – to commercial ones owned and operated by big companies.

Justice Systems

In modern society, the government is the main source of justice, with appointed judges supplying justice to all who come before them. The only problem is that the system isn’t really working for most cases of civil disputes. The justice system has turned into a complex monstrosity of rules, laws, rulings and lawyers who can navigate the system for exorbitant fees. Rebecca Lova Kourlis, a former justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, describes the situation best in her own words in The Atlantic –

 “…let’s say your teenage daughter gets into a car crash with an uninsured motorist. She is badly injured and has to have shoulder surgery that eliminates her ability to get that tennis scholarship to college — and now you must pay for the car, the medical bills, and college. You need to sue the uninsured driver. It’s likely, however, that the costs of the litigation will exceed your losses — and even more likely that it will take years to resolve the case. Too often today, the last place to go for actual justice is civil court.

The problem is doubly obvious in Yam’s case, and generally for every commercial company that sells its services to millions of customers at the same time, like Amazon, eBay, Fiverr and others. The courts simply cannot provide an answer to the millions of citizens who want to get a relatively small refund, or some other compensation for unsatisfactory services. And so, the large companies have opened dispute resolution centers of their own, and those are taking care of millions of disputes every year.

But what happens when a customer is unhappy with a certain dispute’s resolution?

This, in essence, is Yam’s case. Being unsatisfied with the way the dispute was being handled by Fiverr, he turned to PayPal’s dispute resolution system. In other words, he tried to switch from one commercial justice system to a competing one.

Is it really so surprising that Fiverr refused to acknowledge the authority of PayPal’s dispute resolution system? Of course not. Let’s be honest: companies want to keep their customers’ disputes to themselves, and it’s perfectly understandable why Fiverr won’t accept PayPal’s dispute resolution process. All the same, since PayPal controls the money transfer, Yam may even get his money back from Fiverr.

And all throughout this story, the governmental justice system is nowhere to be found.

This is a sign of the things to come. As I mentioned before, the current governmental justice system is quite simply incapable of taking care of most of citizens’ civil disputes. In its place come the commercial justice systems, whose rules are not necessarily dictated by governments, morals or ethics. In fact, there is nearly no real supervision by governments on commercial justice systems.

You may side with the seller in Yam’s story, or with Fiverr, or even with Yam himself. The side you choose to take are beside the point. The real story here is that the execution of justice is rapidly being relegated to commercial companies, each of which with its own unsupervised justice system. And some of which – like Fiverr – are apparently willing to ban you from their services if you turn to justice systems other than its own.

Does that scare you yet? If not, just consider what happens if Google decides to ban you from using your Gmail mailbox just because you opened a dispute with it. A relatively small number of incredibly large companies are controlling our virtual platforms. They are gaining power rapidly while the government loses power, and people like Yam are caught in between. And there’s no dispute about that.