Why You Should Think Twice Before Posting a Harsh Yelp Review

Yelp offers a vital service to customers: for everything from restaurants to pest control companies, the site provides a safe forum for people to rate their experience. A good Yelp reviewer can steer you away from food poisoning or a toxic home. Crucial to process is the reviwers' anonymity. If people must identify themselves, they might be less inclined to write critically about the services.

But that's all about to change, at least in Virginia. Last Tuesday, the state court of appeals ruled that Yelp must the reveal the identity of seven online commenters. The far-reaching consequences of that case have caused much worry.

According to Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, which initiated the case, seven of the negative reviews it received on Yelp were suspicious. The company sued the anonymous seven for defamation, and subpoenaed Yelp for their identities. Though Yelp argued that Hadeed did not demonstrate enough proof for the charge, the court claimed that the company had a "legitimate, good faith basis" for their suspicion.

The court ruled that while "generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is a person's opinion about a business that they patronized," there is potential for reviews to be fraudulent. "If the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead the review is based on a false statement," the court added.

Here are a few of the negative reviews on Hadeed's Yelp page. There are only 16 listed at this time, three of which are positive. The other 93 reviews are listed as "not currently recommended," although you can still view them here:




But while Hadeed may have had reasonable grounds for his suit, Yelp is worried about the implications of the case. "We are disappointed that the Virginia Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that fails to adequately protect free speech rights on the internet, and which allows businesses to seek personal details about website users — without any evidence of wrongdoing — in efforts to silence online critics," wrote Yelp spokesperson Vince Sollitto in a statement.

"It's going to make it more difficult for the marketplace of ideas to get valuable information about companies," added Paul Levy, a lawyer from the non-profit group Public Citizen who represented Yelp on the case. (Yelp is planning on appealing the case at the Virginia Supreme Court.)

The case is currently limited to Virginia, and "the decision likely won't set a precedent for the wholesale disclosure of anonymous speech online." For one, other states have more stringent standards for proving defamation. Still, the Virginia court ruling may lead to similar suits in the future, which would not be a good sign for Yelp's anonymous policy.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

MORE FROM

Will Justice Anthony Kennedy retire at end of Supreme Court term? Here's what we know.

Rumors that the 80-year-old swing justice may leave the bench are fueling fear of a second Trump pick on the nation's high court.

3 states and D.C. allow same flammable building materials behind Grenfell Tower fire

The causes of London's Grenfell Tower are similar to the justifications used to waive fire regulations in the U.S.

New Jersey bill would require kids to be taught how to interact with police

Students from kindergarten through 12th grade would receive the education.

UK Parliament hit with cyberattack

Members of Parliament had difficulty accessing their emails Saturday in the wake of the attack.

Istanbul LGBT pride march banned by government for safety concerns

A right-wing nationalist group has vowed to stop the protest.

Compounds seized by US in December reportedly contained material useful in Russia probe

The Trump administration has reportedly been considering returning the New York and Maryland compounds to Russia.

Will Justice Anthony Kennedy retire at end of Supreme Court term? Here's what we know.

Rumors that the 80-year-old swing justice may leave the bench are fueling fear of a second Trump pick on the nation's high court.

3 states and D.C. allow same flammable building materials behind Grenfell Tower fire

The causes of London's Grenfell Tower are similar to the justifications used to waive fire regulations in the U.S.

New Jersey bill would require kids to be taught how to interact with police

Students from kindergarten through 12th grade would receive the education.

UK Parliament hit with cyberattack

Members of Parliament had difficulty accessing their emails Saturday in the wake of the attack.

Istanbul LGBT pride march banned by government for safety concerns

A right-wing nationalist group has vowed to stop the protest.

Compounds seized by US in December reportedly contained material useful in Russia probe

The Trump administration has reportedly been considering returning the New York and Maryland compounds to Russia.