Make or Break a Business.
According to the company’s latest stats, an average of 145-million people visit Yelp each month. Some look at reviews posted by other users, while others post reviews on their experiences with local businesses. The popularity of the site speaks for itself and often reviews can make or break a business, so the process of posting reviews has seen its share of controversies since the company’s inception in 2004.
Recently a California law firm sued Yelp in order to force it to take down a “negative review” posted by an ex-client of the firm. Hassell Law Group first attempted to get the former client to remove her review back in 2013, but when they were unsuccessful in doing so, they decided to file a lawsuit against Yelp.
Attorney Dawn Hassel defended her firm’s legal action saying that they simply wanted the “lies” removed from the customer’s review, and not necessarily the negative comments. Hassel stated that the firm has an impeccable reputation and the lies in the Yelp review threatened that reputation.
Two years ago, a San Francisco court ruled with the law firm and agreed that the review was “defamatory.” Much to the chagrin of Yelp and other interactive Internet companies, a California appeals court later upheld the ruling.
Citing the bad precedent by the rulings, Yelp pressed forward and the case proceeded in front of the California Supreme Court this October. Yelp and other Internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, said would stifle a vast quantity of “protected and important speech.”
Critics of the original rulings say that this would in essence stop consumers from giving anything but good reviews on sites like Yelp, thus rendering them useless to the public.
Aaron Schur, Yelp’s senior director of litigation said the ruling “would inhibit a website’s ability to provide a balanced spectrum of views online and make it more doubtful that people would get the information they need to make informed decisions.”
Dawn Hassel says the ramifications of her firm’s lawsuit are being exaggerated and overblown, saying, “You can give critical reviews about people on the Internet. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be defamation. You can’t write untruthful content to hurt somebody.”
Should people be able to write anything they want on review sites like Yelp, and if so, should the website be susceptible to lawsuits if the review poster refuses to delete or change the posting? Where is the fine line between free speech and opinion on the Internet and people’s rights not to be defamed or slandered?
Let’s see what answers the California Supreme Court comes up with next month.
Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groups, Google+ Circles.