Court Rules Yelp Must Unmask the Identities of Anonymous Reviewers


The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that Yelp must reveal the identities of seven anonymous reviewers who severely criticized a local business. The court deemed that their  “comments were not protected First Amendment opinions” if the Yelpers were never customers and thus, their reviews false. The game-changing decision could have negative impacts on “free speech rights on the internet,” Yelp warned, as business owners may be able to silence unfavorable critics moving forward.

Initially, Yelp refused to divulge the names of the seven anonymous Yelpers after attorneys representing Hadeed Carpet Cleaning sued the seven reviewers for defamation in July 2012 and subpoenaed Yelp for their identities. Despite Yelp’s repeated protest, the Virginia appeals court agreed 2-1 that Yelp must turn over information on the accused users.

Judge William Petty defended the decision, stating that “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 of fact — that the reviewer is writing his review based on personal experience. And ‘there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.'”

Unfortunately, Yelp is quite familiar with fake reviews and the issue has been an occurring source of contention. As for how the court’s ruling will effect those businesses in the food industry, many who would no doubt love to see Yelp close its doors, and the online reviewer experience, has yet to be determined.

Yelp has since begun its own political action committee that will enable them to collect money and lobby legislators as a way to influence policies such as the federal-level anti-defamation (anti-SLAPP) bill. Yes, it’s hardly a coincidence, Watson.

H/T Washington Times

By Charisma Madarang

Charisma has an undying love for gritty literature and drinks coffee like water. She also hails from Toronto, Canada and is a die-hard Maple Leafs fan, sigh.

4 replies on “Court Rules Yelp Must Unmask the Identities of Anonymous Reviewers”

This is the nanny state at work once again! The “courts” have no business getting involved in this situation, its up to Yelp USERS to determine if they choose to believe an anonymous comment or not – sometimes people choose to remain anonymous for good reason.

While the courts shouldn’t have any right to force Yelp to reveal anonymous reviewers, Yelp in itself is a police state. I’m a Yelper and a friend of mine wrote a very unfavorable review for a business that deserved the review it got. However, the business owner cried to Yelp and threatened them with whatnot if they didn’t remove this man’s review. So they (Yelp) removed it. My friend put the review back up. Yelp removed it again. This happened four times.

Now, suddenly, there are these mysterious 5-star reviews for the business my friend poo-pooed.

Just wrong.

So a few years ago the federal courts said it was legal to impersonate a member of the military. You can lie about military service but can’t fudge an internet review (if that is even actually the case)? No words.

I would be interested in seeing what this guys reviews are on Angie’s List. Those are only available to paying members but I bet they are not much different than what you find everywhere else. A quick search reveals bad feedback across all of the review sites, and it’s been gathering over a number of years. For a business that’s been around for years and claims to serve over 35,000 customers per year, one would expect way more reviews. Joe Hadeed would be better served setting up a customer feedback system so that he provides his clients a way to leave him immediate feedback, before they take to the web to vent.

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