Court Orders Yelp User To Change Review. Slippery Slope?

    December 9, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

This week, a Virginia judge ordered a Yelp user to change a negative review. Before we get into the specifics, just think about that for a second. Do you use Yelp (or any other service for that matter) to discuss your experiences at restaurants or with other businesses? Have you ever left a negative review of a business? Depending on what you say and how the business in question reacts, that freedom of speech thing you’ve grown so fond of may not be enough to hold up in a court of law.

Should courts be able to make people change what they say online? Tell us what you think.

On the flipside, however, as a business, should you not have legal recourse for accusations you believe to be false, in order to protect your business’ reputation, and avoid losing potential customers? It’s a tricky debate, and any legal rulings could have far-reaching implications for future cases. On the one hand, ruling against the reviewer risks opening the floodgates for such suits which could ultimately cost average consumers not only their voice, but unaffordable legal fees. On the other hand, ruling in favor of the reviewer could leave room for all kinds of smear campaigns from disgruntled consumers or even ex-employees of businesses who did not leave on the best of terms. It could, as one business claims, cost said business a great deal of money in lost customers.

Now, let’s look at what we’re dealing with here. Jane Perez was sued by Dietz Development, a building contractor, who claims to have lost business because of her negative postings on sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. He sued for $750,000, and claimed that he lost $300,000 because of her words.

What was so bad about the reviews? Perez reportedly indicated that the company had caused damage to her home, trespassed, and even stolen jewelry. According to reports, the judge granted a temporary injunction, and ordered Perez to change parts of the Yelp review – specifically the part about jewelry theft, which had said, “I found my jewelry missing and Dietz was the only one with a key.” She was also reportedly ordered to nix a part mentioning a previous lawsuit that Dietz had filed.

Mail Online talked to Perez’s attorney, who is quoted as saying, “Obviously this is very chilling to free speech because folks are going to be very concerned and afraid to voice their opinions about businesses…We believe that these sites are the forum where we should be encouraged to write about our experiences with businesses.”

The Dietz party maintains that its reputation is at stake, and that accusations are false. Mail Online also quotes Deitz’s lawyer as saying, “A bad review is one thing. But, it was a bad review that accused him of theft. And in this residential construction, commercial construction business – that’s a devastating accusation.”

You can read the entire 27-page legal document here, courtesy of The Washington Post.

It’s not really about this one case though. It’s about underlying theme, which is also woven throughout a growing number of similar complaints, not limited to Yelp, but to the web in general. We live in an era when anyone with a computer or a mobile phone can easily jump on Facebook, Twitter, or countless other sites, and say whatever is on their mind in any given moment. Not happy with the way your burger was put together at McDonald’s? You may wish to reconsider calling the worker who gave it to you names, as there is always a chance that the corporation that employees them decides it doesn’t like the way you’re representing their business.

Sometimes name calling is name calling. Sometimes accusations are accusations, but the lines aren’t always that clear, and sarcasm and snark don’t always play as well as we hope they do when in written (or typed) form. Believe me. I’ve had plenty of sarcastic comments in articles throughout the years that simply didn’t land. A scathing metaphor about a person or business risks being taken as fact, and if the person or business on the other end of that scathe, decides to pursue legal options, well, they may just have a case.

Social media, by the way, is working hard to eliminate online anonymity. In many cases, it won’t be hard for a complaint to put a name to the comments.

As far as Yelp reviews go, there are plenty of business breaking the “rules” too. There have been enough businesses buying positive reviews on Yelp that Yelp had to start slapping alerts on business profiles who had been “caught red-handed” (Yelp’s own terminology). So, that’s one way businesses had of countering bad reviews that Yelp has essentially taken away (granted, with good reason).

Some businesses, rather than suing or paying for good reviews, are simply having fun with the bad ones. I prefer this approach. San Diego’s Craft & Commerce is recording their bad Yelp reviews, and playing them for customers while they’re in the bathroom. Seriously. Awesome idea.

Unfortunately, it’s quite likely, especially in light of the Perez case, more companies will take the legal route, rather than the bathroom humor route. Of course, you do have to get the customers in the door before you can get them in the bathroom.

On a semi-related note, there has been a lot about Google’s handling of reviews in search results of late, as the company faces potential antitrust lawsuits from the FTC and EU. Yelp has been a big opponent of Google for some time.

This whole thing seems to be validation that people are finding Yelp reviews just fine, regardless of how Google is treating its own search results. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, a regular critic of Google’s business practices, was recently quoted as saying that Google has some “evil” business practices. He thinks Google shouldn’t be putting Google reviews ahead of other reviews (like Yelp’s).

Yelp, by the way, gets somewhere around 84 million visitors a month, and has 22 million reviews. So many people use it that its reviews are often the basis of lawsuits.

What do you think? Should the courts be determining what people are saying in online reviews? On social media? Comment here.

  • Tony mak

    Yelp sucks

  • sanford finley

    The author owes it to his readers to publish an article on the dodgy business practices of Yelp. The truly compelling story is how a modern corporation has hid behind the first amendment to profit from extorting the small business community. The litigants in this lawsuit are only collateral damage from Yelp’s quest to make profits at the expense of others.

  • Julianne

    I am constantly amazed by the tone of comments people make online while they are hidden by anonymity. We have laws regarding libelous remarks – shouldn’t that extend to the internet? It’s very disturbing that there are hundreds of stories about Yelp’s shabby business practices over several years, and yet people continue to use the site. If the courts can’t stop Yelp, the people can by not using their reviews.

  • http://n/a Gordie

    It`s one thing to say Deitz is a bad builder but to
    insinuate that he`s a thief as well is a little over the top.

  • http://www.larkinremodlers.com Derek

    I’m a contractor and at least once a month we get blackmailed for discounts by customers for unjustifiable discounts.
    This lady was trying to bankrupt the contractor by lying and I hope the contractor wins his 750k lawsuit.

    People are abusing the review system! It doesn’t give you permission to lie.

  • Robert Schmidt

    Outside of Internet was a tipical thing that anyone must prove that what its said its true. More over if it is a possibly damaging declaration. Why should this be different only because it is called “Internet” ???
    Make sure you have witnesses about what you say, than it will be all fine if you leave a negative comment in the web.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    First of all, you can’t just accuse someone of theft and offer no evidence. If she was so certain that they were responsible, why was there no preceding court case? Did she even file a police report about that? If a crime has been committed, then you report it. Then, if that case stands up, she would have legal course to add that in the review. The fact that nothing was proven is the problem here.

    She can’t just say they are a thief in a review and expect nothing to be done about it!

    This is about defamation and libel. People seem to think that the Internet is a free-for-all where you can attack anyone and accuse them of anything for no reason and with no evidence. That is not acceptable, this is not the wild west.

    This should be about Yelp and it should never have gone to court. If the company complained to Yelp and said that this was an unfounded accusation costing them business, they should have removed it.

    You cannot have a reviews site like Yelp not providing a balanced service. If someone makes a complaint about my business I want to be able to deal with it, and a comment like this would not be acceptable to me. I would have taken it to court too, and then I would have sued Yelp for failing to provide adequate protections and content control.

  • https://dukeinsuranceagency.com/ Duke

    What is so ironic is that its again the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. We have clients publish positive reviews on google and they do not even go public!

  • http://www.normandie-chambres.fr/ Phil in France

    I think this is excellent news. There is a world of difference between “free speech” and libel. It’s ridiculous to suggest that this has anything to do with free speech. Just because it’s on the Internet, or because you can hide behind an alter ego, doesn’t mean you should be able to tell damaging lies. The same law should apply as in printed media.

  • Lev

    No matter what court decided business reputation is damaged.
    Question is do they deserve that or not.
    From my point of view the court had a chance to establish is the accusation is true.
    I see nothing wrong in some one express his/her dissatisfaction with service they received, however it is always 2(TWO) side to a story.
    What I do not like is that Yelp accept remarks- comments form public and do not have a place for business owner to respond to accusations
    to clear the air. So now we will see more and more court cases like this. As a business owner I know how difficult to keep your reputation clean. So I commend business owner who took time and money to restore his/her reputation and I do not see any thing wrong for court force accuser to change comment and apologies
    Some one have to do it…

  • http://www.chiropractorsanmateo.com John

    Consumers should not have the right to write whatever they want on Yelp with no repercussions. If the consumer tells an all out lie, they should have to pay a penalty. If that penalty is determined through our justice system, I’m ok with it.

    As for Yelp calling Google “evil?” What a laugher. Yelp has a track record of some pretty unscrupulous activity themselves. They’re the pot calling the kettle black.

  • james

    There should be accountability on the web. To practice free speech is fine, but to purposely lie to slander another human being is illegal. Libel is a huge issue. The web is too easy for malicious individuals to use as a way to scare and control others. Yelp, trip advisor and other sites will post anything without checking it out. Lying is not legal, purposely causing economic harm, harassing, etc… are not moral acts. Sites who act irresponsible should be held responsible, as well as the individuals that abuse them. Finally litigation is catching up with criminal behaviors on the internet. I think most negative comments, and pay per click charges could easily be traced to competitors in the business world, or scorned people. Not real individuals with relevant comments. Google in particular fosters these actions to gain revenue, through their only revenue stream, pay per click. Corrections need to be made in the industry.

    • James Bradd

      I wholeheartedly agree with the review written by James
      There are certain well known Booking.sites that publish any review given and will not under any circumstance remove it irrespective of that review being fabricated
      I love the idea of comic relief and will suggest it wherever I book !!!!

  • http://theakurians.com Colonel Robert F. Cunningham

    Were the remarks deliberate defamation?

    If so, the court was still WRONG in that there’s no report of RESTITUTION of any kind.


    It’s time to stop using walls just to hold the paint up. These kind never stop of themselves ….

    Colonel Robert F. Cunningham,

  • somiran malakar

    It is well that perez is sued. What about those business who buys positive reviews? No one in this world do a bad review purposefully. Let me say, On sunday Mcdonald has served 1000 cutomers wonderfully and 10 with rotten stuffs, then why not these 10 people write a bad review about google.
    If business can sue for review, then businesses should be sued for buying positive reviews. It is not new that big companies frequenty buy review in their favour.

    None of the court in this whole universe is neutral. Any pleder can prove a lie a truth and vice versa. This seems total insane to me. If a company is good then bad reviews can not damage its reputation, but suing perez proves that there is somethin wrong with this company called dietz.

    If a company is good, there will be more good reviews than bad reviews. No student can answer all question correct, but the student gives most answers right pass the exams. Like that company with good service never fails for any bad reviews. If a company fails due to negtive review then I must say that that company must have done something wrong and that is 100% truth.

    If a review is right it must be there. There should be freedom speech. Perez has wrote his experience, people have their choice to believe it or not. If people believe Perez is right without testing it, then it is not perez who is gult, it the people who beliving perez. Business should not have right to discard human belief. everyone has right to think what is right and what is wrong.

    And for Google, to me google is a monster not evil. It sold all my preferences in the internet without my permission and displayed unwilling ads to me. Google is earning because of customer like us. Google has no right to sell our preferences over internet to companies, and google already has given penalty for breachin our personal informations to others.

    If a court is not neutral then we have to think that we are till living in the pre hitoric era of chaos when there was no way to express truth.

  • Don Macdonald

    Real simple if the stolen jewelry can be proven, no problem with the post. If not it should end up in court. As far as the rest its, he said she said, and a response to the accusations on the same format should suffice.

  • Mike

    A lot of people hire workers at minifreelance to get positive review about their organization or their product to offset the false negative reviews.

  • http://danielcurzon.com Daniel Curzon-Brown

    Free speech does not, or should not, protect lies.
    The Internet has become a way to bully others,including
    teachers into giving undeserved grades. People can criticize
    their teachers, businesses, and their friends all they like.
    Posting defamation for the whole world to see is totally different.
    The Internet should have the same rules as newspapers and magazines.

    • Bob W

      You are just flat out wrong. If I decide that I am going to target you and post on every website I can find that you are a convicted child molester is that ok? Should you have no recourse. Should all of those site keep that infomation up even if it is false? I don’t think so.

  • http://johnsfuntime.com JOHN

    without reading any of the specifics or other comments here;

    i feel NOBODY has ANY right to FORCE ANYONE to change their opinion/review NO MATTER WHAT!

    if the reviewer wishes to avoid any conflicts/lawsuits resulting from his/her negative review, then he/she has the option and right to recant.

    we are all entitled to our opinion and reviews of anything online and off. isn’t this what “America” is supposed to be about and at one time was?

    our rights are slowly but surely being taken away from us.

    • ryan

      You’re right…except when your review makes unfounded accusations. Did the contractor steal? Was it merely an accusation or was it proven? You have every right to make a statement but at the same time, you can be sued if your statement makes a false or unproven claim.

  • http://www.metrotechs.net Richard

    I own a tech support / website design company and I have had to deal with negative reviews from disgruntled ex-employees as well as a couple of customers who did not understand that I do not like to work for free. People are going to leave bad reviews about a business when they feel they have been wronged. The problem is that a lot of people make things up to make the situation seem worse than it actually is, just to make themselves feel better. Defamation is against the law, and when a person lies about your business/self then you should have the ability to defend your business/self.

  • Ian Sharieff

    Review is one thing and accusation is another. Web host must insist on substantiating the reviewer’s accusation and get them to sign off that if the review or accusation is proved wrong writer is responsible for damages. This will help reduce salacious reviews and accusation.

  • Rick

    The definition of “libel”
    1. Law.
    a. defamation (the act of defaming; false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another,) by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.
    b. the act or crime of publishing it.
    c. a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.
    2. anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents.

    This should be published on review sites with a warning that the poster can be sued for making false accusations. This is not a restriction of free speech.

  • http://www.businesscarddispensers.co.uk/ jt

    In a word… Honesty. Everyone, supplier or receiver should be prepared to substantiate their claim / review / assertion, made without malice.
    Equally the injured party should have the right to a correction, and in proportion to any harm done. First do no harm. Give the other party an opportunity to correct a perceived wrong. Failing all, declare honestly only what you can substantiate. An honest person is always at ease.

  • Tominguez

    Not only the court has to stop some negative and aggressive people, they should have laws that allow businesses to remove negative reviews if they feel they are fake, abusive or contain bad language. The number of cheap people is impressive, they do whatever it takes to get a freebie, fake paid posters and just plain ignorant people are the cause of many businesses going down. IMPORTANT Angry Birds: Aren’t you the same people who complaint that there are few jobs or that small businesses don’t pay enough? Why to trash them then?

    If anyone disagrees with removing the negative reviews I propose that anyone who leaves negative reviews should also post their real name and a way to also receive feedback or to identify that person. You will see how many negative reviews will be linked to those eternally unhappy individuals.

  • SpamExterminator

    I think this Judge should be taken out and Tarred and Feathered and then put in the Stockades. If he wants to resort to times before they had Freedom of Speech then show him how it really was in them days. 1st Off no one Cares about a Single Persons Review it is the Over All Rating people look at. 2nd If the Accusation is false then it is Slander an will not cost the company in question a damn penny in lost revenues. They may incur court costs which most of it will be recovered if they win their case. Taking Away Freedoms Cause the Judge believes he is a God, IS A CRIME AND THE REASON FOR SO MANY CIVIL WARS. Reverse the Ruling remove the Judge from power before this kind of Shit Gets out of hand.

  • Todd K

    Yelp is a bunch of crooks, they call me almost weekly offering to sell me a service that brings positive comments to the top of the list. They also refused to remove a comment that made false accusations about the origin of our product. That review still exists on Yelp even though I was able to show Yelp that it was indeed incorrect. The problem is that people have no issue saying nasty things online because they realize they have to answer to no one, there is no recourse, say what you want, no one knows your name, or your address, I’ve even heard of old employees making up multiple email addresses and bad mouthing a business. How can anyone think Yelp’s reviews, or any online review system that is free of charge is legit when it so easy to scam?

  • http://myfavoritehobby.org Martin Good

    I am not familiar with the particular case, but I generally would not fault a judge for ceasing a biased review. Granted, most reviews by nature may be biased, but what is often missing from online reviews is the credibility or authority of the commenter. The credibility of any comment hinges on the credibility of the commenter, hence the adage, “consider the source”. You’re not going to please all the people all the time, but should a businesses reputation be portrayed by one sole negative comment? Unfortunately it often is. A more accurate, and professionally responsible approach to running a review website would be to collect and review data before posting, removing any ‘outliers’.

  • http://praxissolutionsnp.com Dan

    Slander is still slander. To accuse someone or a company of theft is accusing them of a crime. If they did not commit the crime or were found innocent of the crime then it is slander or wrong to say that they did. I don’t see this as a case of fee speech as a case of lying in public discourse and not expect the offended party to have an opportunity to defend themselves. If my neighbor took out an ad in the local newspaper and said I burned down his house when the house was still there and in good shape you are darn sure I would sue him. Your free speech does not preclude my right to litigate if what you said was clearly slander or malice.

  • http://www.satinbow.co.uk Gordon

    I’ve had fake reviews added to various review sites, some so obviously fake that its amazing they got past any editorial the review sites claim to have.

    These sites accrue financially from listing reviews of other peoples companies, so they better be legit reviews.

    If the review is bad but also true, then depending on how its worded the publisher should not be forced to censor ie its not anonymous, slanderous or here-say. If it fulfilled these points then the court would not remove it anyway.

  • http://www.txinsurancepro.com David Berry

    Put it in writing if you want. Before you do that, look up the definition of libel. You can put anything in writing you want just as long as you’re ready to get sued. If this person was incorrect, then they will get sued. They should consider themselves lucky to only have to change the reviews. Don’t put it in writing if you cannot prove it. This is nothing new. The internet made it easier for a person to get sued. From an insurance agent’s perspective, NO SURPRISES HERE.

  • http://volleycam.com Robert Keppel

    Let’s separate the concepts of FACT and OPINION.

    Example of opinion:
    “Rose’s Deli is a horrible restaurant. Food tastes stale.”

    Example of fact:
    “I was kicked in the face by an employee at Rose Deli.”

    The courts, nor Google/Yelp etc. have never removed opinions, just factual inaccuracies.

    • Mike

      You are right. The guy went a bit too far. One thing that I do or customers is get them positive reviews to offset the negative reviews. I use minifreelance to get positive review some of them, so that the false reviews like this do not count.

  • https://www.atomcoupons.org Dr. Bruce MacApple A.S, B.A, M.S, PhD

    average Joe consumer can’t afford a lawer so their blog, voice, & freedom of speech is their only weapon against bearch of justice. Internet levels playing field withthese regards

    i.e. i was very badly screwed over by Godaddy.com, thought att least i cann help others from getting screwed over too, so was very vocal about warning others of their unethical behavior

    First i was taken 4A flame, troll, so to speak, then facts of accusations where checked by FBI, & bottom line… you cant (or should not) bee punished 4 telling the truth

  • Mike

    This is not an infringement of freedom of speech. We have always had libel and slander laws on the books. If you are going to say bad things about anyone, you have to be able to support it with facts.

    I am a part time online seller that received a bad review because of a misunderstanding. They did not contact me about it, instead they left an online review saying they called me many times for help and each time my support staff was profane and threatening. It was silly, especially considering I don’t even have a support staff. I had so many good reviews I just posted a reply to clarify and did not worry about it. But this man wanted to harm my reputation and was perfectly willing to post false accusations to do so.

    So I can see in a different case where someone would want to take legal action. I imagine if the action was frivolous and punitive and the defendant had facts to support their claim the ruling would go the other way.

  • http://www.escv.com Robert Gardner

    Its about time! Yelp is not an equal playing field and caters to only the consumer. Businesses do not have a fair shake and there are far too many stories of false negative reviews that are nothing more than slander or liable. If a consumer goes too far and make accusations online that are false and they hurt a business, the business should have every right to sue that consumer in court.

    To Dr. Bruce, if a consumer can’t afford a lawyer, maybe they better think twice about what they are saying in their post. Calling out people or business owners by name or posting false information is the responsibility of the poster and should be done with caution. There is a big difference in:

    “I was not pleased with the service” or the “food was terrible”

    – and –

    “Alice the waiter was a dumb” or “Bill the owner is a scumbag and a crook”

    In my experience Yelp doesn’t do anything to monitor what could actually be construed as Liable or Slander in real life. Why should people be able to get away with it online when they can’t in real life?

  • http://www.datarecoveryonsite.ca khan

    Good news for business against those who express their evil minds against reputable businesses.

  • http://www.jadedsecrets.com Shirene

    There is a certain protocol you should follow when giving a review about a business. First of all, you should never accuse a business (or anyone for that matter) of stealing from you if you have no evidence to back up your accusation. The reason the reviewer was required to change the review was due to the fact that they outright accused the person of theft, which is simply hearsay without grounds, and in my opinion very unethical. I question people who provided those types of reviews. What type of person would give a review and blatantly accuse someone of stealing? It makes it seem as if the reviewer was being malicious. They wanted to ruin the businesses reputation, which is downright unethical from my perspective. If you feel you’ve been wrong by a business and you simply want to inform others to beware of a certain business, you can do so without be deceitful.

  • Homa Sapiens

    An opinion is one thing. An accusation without proof is quite another thing.

    The judge explained to her which of her statements those were slanderous and unprovable allegations, and told her to remove them. She did not remove her opinions. She was not told to. This is not censorship in any way.

  • http://ulc.net Universal Life Church

    I’m OK with a business being able to apply to a court to require the amending of a libelous statement. It’s way too easy for someone to sling accusations, and I’m sure they are often overstated at best. It’s not easy for a business to get something changed. It will cost them time and money. But in the spirit of fairness, there ought to at least be something they can do to respond.

    A reviewer with a legitimate beef can avoid the problem by stating “just the facts” in such a way that would lead the reader to draw their own conclusion. A reasonable, though negative, review is more compelling than an angry rant anyway.

    • http://www.netcommercial.net Netcommercial

      I agree. Furthermore One can usually tell the caliber of a complaint via grammar, sentence structure and or rant. I am a member of Trip Adviser, and do follow their suggestions and have found that comments are a pretty good insight as is Ebay track records, etc. Yelp is Yahoo and Yahoo is nothing more then the dregs of society commenting on it’s rolling Blog. IMO. Uh oh Yahoo just served me…LOL

  • http://www.absolutewebworks.com/ Jesse

    I find it interesting that people spend the time to give businesses good reviews in the first place. When people are dissatisfied the first thing they are going to do is complain. I’m not sure how effective online reviews are in terms of evaluating overall business quality. I do know that online reviews are effective at hurting or destroying a business.

    That is just another thing that businesses have to deal with. I do support reporting unethical business practices, unfortunately most people will never get the information anyway. I conduct business online. I have been burned many times by online business over the years. What do you do?

  • http://www.DaltonPhoto.com rick

    Interesting story and comes to my email box the day I saw that a former client left inaccurate feedback about my company on a large site for business reviews.

    In business over 20 years doing wedding photography. Customer tried the same thing years ago with BBB, and after BBB saw our documentation and heard our side, BBB refused to post their complaint. Now this, 8 years after their wedding.

    As much as I hate lawyers, I need to protect the reputation of my business, and this guy clearly wants to hurt my business and needs to know I’m serious about guarding reputation. Good to see there is precedent for such damages.

  • http://ephedrinewheretobuy.com Mike Budd

    Should courts be able to make people change what they say online?
    Yes, no doubt for me. I have the feeling that posting comments online has a kind of disinhibition effect on some people, as if they were less responsible for the consequences of their actions. Online or in real life, libel laws apply.

    • Sukhwant Singh

      With respect, this article is inaccurate. In fact, nothing has changed about our freedoms by the use and application of the internet- you cannot directly or indirectly defame anyone- whatever medium of communication you use- emails, letters, phone calls, internet etc etc. No form of communication can be abused to denigrate/defame anyone or injure reputations.
      Even in USA (count all western countries) the current laws of defamation, sedition etc apply to the internet.
      If you criticise by sticking to clean clear FACTS- you’re safe- venture into abuse, falsehoods or unverified implied accusations and you deserve a kick up the Khyber pass.

  • http://www.healthcaremarketingcoe.com/doctor_reputation_management/ Simon Sikorski MD

    That’s one review taken off…

    How many millions of reviews are untrue and not validated as actual?

    How is this fair?

    For example, take a doctor’s listing on a ratings site:

    1) First of all: The ratings sites COMPETES for the doctor’s own name on Google
    2) The rating site CHOOSES which reviews to display, which reviews to hide, even though there is no way of verifying valid reviews. (We analyzed one doctor for example and found 47 of his own patients’ reviews to be hidden on Yelp)
    3) The negative reviews help to increase “clicks” on advertisements above the listing. In this case, the negative reviews are an advertising ploy to increase effectiveness of an advertisement. Think about it, if you had a choice of seeing a doctor with a clean slate versus a doctor with 2 negative reviews… which one would you schedule an appointment with?
    4) Ratings sites are NOT public service. The moment they turned into competing for doctors’ names (and business names) all of these sites should be sued for trademark infringements and defamation. Reviews cannot be verified and the entire system is rigged to be an advertising platform, not a public service.

    And as Americans we should take the following to heart: all this is doing is creating a society where complaints with businesses are not addressed when it matters (at time of service), while the ratings systems reward complaining and public shaming. Where is this going?

    In medicine there are some serious ethical issues involved. I don’t understand why Yelp or other ratings sites go into an industry where confidentiality is critical and where people should be raising their complaints privately.

    In another example, plastic surgeons are now literally blackmailed to offer patients another service with the threat “I will remove my comment if you do”

  • http://www.sternpr4less.com susan stern omaha

    My business and me personally was repeatedly defamed, libeled and harassed online by a former “friend” and his girlfriend, the former of whom stole all the marketing work I provided for “his roofing business.” I received zero money for $4,000 of work to which we had a trade agreement/contract. The individual conducted a false smear campaign in an attempt to blackmail me into giving thousands of work for free. it worked for him, unfortunately because I could not afford an attorney nor could I handle the anticipated legal costs nor long drawn out emotional stress I would be forced to endure had I pursued a defamation suit.I am uncertain of the impact to my business that this bonafide felon did by writing false reviews, but certainly it has caused harm since many businesses search online for the web design and marketing services I offer. My only recourse was to obtain a harassment protection order! Forget about removal of libelous statements. Sites like rip off report and pissed consumer have non removal policies. All in all, there should be policies in place at these sites. That a person may not make potentially libelous statements against another nor use anonymous or fake names. Each should have a removal policy, that doesn’t requires court order. Only when your business is the target of false and inflammatory statements you can truly understand the necessity of restrictions on free speech at “review” sites. Remember anyone can create an account under a false name and post anything they want in attempt to ruin your source of bread and butter.
    The perpetrators can be evil competitors, scorned lovers (as in my case) and the like. I sincerely hope your business isn’t the victim of what I experienced. http://WWW.sternpr4less.com Susan Stern Omaha

  • Tim M

    There have been laws against libel for years. If someone makes a defamatory claim without proof then she should be subject to those laws. Poor service is one thing, but once you start publicly accusing someone of theft without proof, then you’ve gone too far.

  • http://www.NicheWolf.com Dori From NicheWolf

    Everyone have a right to an opinion and we are free to express our mind .However it is not right for one person to use his freedom to destroy another person’s life or business .

    If you don’t have some proof to back your claims , then I think you should mind how you run your mouth online.

    My two Cent :)

  • John

    We need reviews, that is the best thing ever, I check reviews before buying anything. As long a you review by telling the truth then there is no problem, but a company or whoever should also be able to reply back and say something.

    • Fozzy

      I guess I start to understand why people use the term “freedom of speech” so… er, freely.

      “Freedom of Speech” is a right to be criticize the government without retribution by said government. Ie. thrown in jail for saying the government sucks. Or in more real terms, protesting against constitutional reforms and holistic presidential power grabs (ie. Egypt).

      “Freedom of Speech” is not the right to say any damn well thing you please about anyone. It does not protect you from libel or slander. It does not allow you to yell “fire” in a crowded theater (to use often used expression).

      Reading through the summary, I saw the common misuse of “Freedom of Speech” to lead people into thinking it later. I also got the impression that the basic ruling of removing the libel parts of the review (ie. the accusations of theft) is fairly on par in these cases.

      So, nothing is under threat here but it sure makes for a sensationalist discussion.

  • http://www.topdogmarketinggroup.com David Lee Cummings

    Yelp is destroying businesses. I have a client who is the victim of a negative review obviously posted by a competitor while Yelp has removed a couple of positive reviews from actual customers. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to Yelp’s policy on approving reviews, and many businesses are suffering as a result.

    Check out this page full of hundreds of business owners complaining how Yelp is ruining their reputations: http://yelp-sucks.com/tell-your-yelp-story/. I think Yelp is bordering on a class action lawsuit and seriously needs to revise it review approval policy.

  • http://giftmela.com kamruzzamanroyal

    this is should not be done. cos people are free to give their comments on any service or product. On some specific product and services, one person can be satisfied and other person can not be satisfied, its natural. Based on the peoples satisfaction level people give comments and this is fare. Court or any other constitution should not involve on that matter. whatever the comment is, people should judge by them-self. If some brand believe that their giving their best to their product and service then 1 or 2 negative comment on the can not harm their business.

  • GSK

    This court action has nothing to do with free speech. It is a clear case of defamation. The client accused the person of theft without showing any evidence (was there a police report? if so, did the police find proof of theft by the individual?) – solely on the basis of suspicion (or was it malice?). Forums, blogs and sites like Yelp will continue to attract reviews from users, who should have the brains to not cross the line and attract trouble. What makes anyone think that the internet is a free-for-all domain outside of applicable laws? Making subjective claims like “I didn’t quite like the food at the place”, isn’t going to get you into trouble. Saying “that restaurant passes off dog meat for steak; I’ve seen it!” will. Know the difference.

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    I commend the valuable information you share in your posts. I will bookmark your blog and have my readers read in your site frequently. I am quite certain they will read lots of fresh stuff in your site than anywhere else!

  • http://ecis2008.ie/cache/index.asp?fenlei=brand brand

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    • Imani X Ortiz

      Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. Numer ous companies are corrupt and have caused grave harm to many consumers for years and not punished. Actually, consumers are victims and should be able to speak out freely verbally or via emails, the INTERNET, etc.

  • Jack Spratt

    Free speech can be used for good or evil. Thinking that one can legally use “free speech” as an excuse to make libelous statements without repercussion is foolish and can be costly. Using free speech as an excuse to libel a person or business can obviously lead to legal trouble for the person who libels.

    The answer to the article’s question: “…. as a business, should you not have legal recourse for accusations you believe to be false, in order to protect your business’ reputation, and avoid losing potential customers?” is yes, you should and you do! You can sue for libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) or slander (defamation by oral utterance rather than by writing, pictures, etc.)

    Perhaps Yelp’s CEO Mr. Stoppelman should heed his own words by stopping Yelp’s “evil” business practice of allowing unproven, defaming, libelous statements to be regularly posted on Yelp.

  • http://persistentengagement.com/reputation.html Franklyn SEO

    Good point about things in print reading and being taken differently than if you are there in person. These stories just prove that businesses should stay on top of their reputations and know what is being said about them. The part about the one company playing the bad reviews in the bathroom shows a great way to deal with bad reviews – meaning HUMOR, if you can for the situation, of course.

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