More yelping about Yelp lawsuits

On January 8th, we reported that a San Franciscan chiropractor was suing a former patient, Christopher Norberg, over a negative review on Yelp. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, this case has since been settled (the details of the settlement remain confidential), and the offending post has been taken down to be replaced with: “A misunderstanding between both parties led us to act out of hand. I chose to ignore Dr. Biegel’s initial request to discuss my posting. In hindsight, I should have remained open to his concerns. Both Dr. Biegel and I strongly believe in a person’s right to express their opinions in a public forum.”


Comments by Yelp users in response to the case continue to volley.

A new similar case reported by The San Francisco Chronicle involves a pediatric dentist in Foster City who has filed charges against the parents of a boy she treated for cavities as well as Yelp.com over a negative review. (The latter charges may be dropped because, as Wong’s lawyer has since learned, “Web sites publishing third-party content are protected under U.S. law.”)

One question raised by the recent spell of Yelp lawsuits is whether these lawsuits are filed simply for the purposes of having the offending posts removed. Since anyone can respond or refute a negative Yelp posting within the confines of Yelp.com, perhaps such “nuisance” suits should be barred.

Nonetheless, Aaron Morris, an internet defamation attorney in Santa Ana, Calif. argues that there needs to be some defense against defamatory speech on the internet:

Those seemingly helpful reviews you are reading on line are being gamed big time, and there must be a means to fight back. I receive calls every day from businesses that are being falsely trashed by competitors. In one case it was discovered that a company had employed a full time defamer (my designation, not theirs), whose job was to spend all day every day, creating false identities in order to post false reviews, blogs and websites about competitors. I’d love to say that it will all come out in the wash; that a good business will receive enough good reviews to override the false statements, but that is not the case. Whereas a legitimate reviewer will post their remarks and go about their business, these professional defamers utilize SEO methods to move the defamatory blogs and websites to the top of the heap.

On the flip side of things, how can reviewers defend themselves if their posts are in earnest?

One option, Morris suggests, is for the defendant to bring “a simple anti-SLAPP motion.” SLAPP stands for “A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”  As Morris explains, a SLAPP “is a lawsuit or a threat of a lawsuit that is intended to intimidate or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.” California passed an anti-SLAPP statue to protect people from these kinds of lawsuits.

Regarding Yelp cases, if it can be shown that the plaintiff does not have a chance of prevailing and that the defendant’s posts concern “an issue of public interest,” the motion is granted and the plaintiff is required to pay all of the poster’s attorney fees. What’s more, Morris argues, the poster can then file “a SLAPP BACK action, suing the prior plaintiff for malicious prosecution.”

These kinds of protections might help to mitigate unwarranted lawsuits, but we have yet to see just how anti-SLAPP motions will be applied to lawsuits over online reviews.

About Blog of the National Coalition Against Censorship

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12 Responses to More yelping about Yelp lawsuits

  1. Bess says:

    What can I do when Yelp removes all 42 positive reviews sent in the last three years and keeps a horrible scathing rant from three years ago?
    Help

  2. Yelp has done the same thing to us. Many positive reviews, and all removed after a few days, and all negative reviews still up.

    My opinion, is that an intelligent attorney would and could recognize one very important and obvious fact; Yelp is, by it’s own admission, “editing” out reviews it feels are not “legitimate”.

    Get it!
    Yelp IS LIABLE, unlike other POST sites, because THEY are ASSUMING the responsibility FOR each POST by their unique editorial process.

    Additionally Yelp, gains monetarily by keeping up the GRIPES.

    Yelp is profiting from its own manipulation of legitimate reviews, by keeping the most negative reviews up on some businesses and selectively awarding and removing reviews from others, Yelp can control what otherwise would be a “free speech” arena.

    Sue the hell out of Yelp, it is not a free speech arena and should not be protected by SLAPP or any other internet laws regarding freedom of speech.
    It can only be considered “freedom of speech” if the Host site does not
    manipulate the posts.
    That is not to say they cannot moderate, but moderation should not be confused with manipulation.
    Hope some good attorney reads this.

    • mike kiefer says:

      NOTE — This is YELP response to several good posts removed and the one NEGATIVE one that remains up. They are entirely gaming the system

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for contacting us about the reviews of your business.

      We can all agree that some reviewers are more credible than others. For the most part, users can decide for themselves which reviewers they trust the most. We remove some of the guesswork by screening out reviews that are written by less established users. The process is entirely automated to avoid human bias, and it affects both positive and negative reviews. Since users can become more or less established over time, their reviews can disappear and reappear over time, as well. Either way, we never actually delete these reviews, and they can still be found on the reviewer’s personal profile page.

      This system proves frustrating for some because it sometimes affects perfectly legitimate reviews. The flip side is that it helps protect against fake reviews from malicious competitors and disgruntled former employees. We think we’ve struck a balance that works well for business owners and consumers alike, but we welcome any thoughts you might have about how to refine the balance further.

      We created a video to better explain the process here: http://bit.ly/YelpFilter

      We’ve also noticed you may have mistakenly created a user account on Yelp instead of a Business Owners Account. A Yelp user account is for personal, non-commercial use and the account you created appears to promote your business. As such, we are closing your user account and suggest you use a free Business Owners Account. Through your free Business account you can contact reviewers directly as well.

      We think it’s important for businesses to be part of the conversation, and have created a suite of free tools to help business owners get the most out of Yelp. By unlocking your listing and creating a Business Owners Account, you can:

      • Communicate with your customers via private message or public comment
      • Track how many people view your business page
      • Add photos and a detailed description of your business
      • Announce special offers and upcoming events

      To join the conversation, click here: http://www.yelp.com/business/unlocking.

      Regards,
      Kainoa
      Yelp User Support
      San Francisco, California

      Yelp Official Blog | http://officialblog.yelp.com
      Yelp Frequently Asked Questions | http://www.yelp.com/faq
      Yelp for Business Owners | http://www.yelp.com/business

      ————————————

      Michael@greenDCrealty.com
      Yelp! Feedback: Business Help: Questionable content
      Business name: Green DC Realty
      Location: Washington, DC
      Business URL: http://www.yelp.com/biz/uUnLIbf32bBQYzCPQ_Bbvw
      Subtopic: questcontent

      Comments:
      ——————————–

      Twice I have had clients post good comments about my business and each time this one consumer is able to do something where the other posts are deleted after they are posted. Her post disappears for a short time but comes back.

      I want to know where the other 2 posts are.

  3. Bess says:

    I have no objection to negitive comments, free speech and all, but to remove all positives is to misslead folks as to the real opninion of patrons. Also the neg comments were about me personally, not the service we have offered for 45 years without a problem.
    When we contacted Yelp they refused to deal with it unless we bought in at $300 per month. Even at that rate it would only allow us to contact the negitive comment writter. Again all we want is the true ligimitate comments, not to remove the nasty one. The problem is not with the negitive commentor, but with YELP. Now 171 good posts have been removed and old rant remains from 2007. This is extortion and apparently the only way to stop it is to go out of business.
    If any attorney wants to help this is certinally a class action situation due to the wide effect this has on all people in business. Any suggestions? Thanks for your post.

  4. L Rhys says:

    What’s the point of a consumer-rated review site that for absolutely no legitimate reason, and without warning to prospective reviewers, simply withholds reviews? I took the time to write an honestly negative review of a notoriously rude local store that violated no rules of etiquette or propriety, only to have Yelp refuse to print it, with the explanation that it is a completely arbitrary and strictly electronic decision. Huh? Then why even have the site? If reviews are going to be censored and the entire rating system is going to be compromised, then Yelp is, at worst, a total fraud and, at best, utterly useless.

  5. Alan says:

    Yes we have the same situation. We have 3 bad reviews since Yelp was started and had up to 50 positive reviews removed!! I have been in the RV business since 1985 and understand customer service and repeat customers. This is what we are in business for. Why does Yelp keep on and post only negative. We are not into lawsuits and have none pending against us and do not want to start one against them. Time and money, but someone there at Yelp should understand that this is not right. On our website we have literally hundreds of satisfied customer’s testimonials with thousands of satisfied customers and we are still in business and doing well. We hope Yelp and their followers do something to correct this soon! Alan

  6. David says:

    The fact is, Yelp comments ARE censored. My own very bad review of a local estabishment was removed, for no reason that can be accounted for by their terms of service.

  7. Matt says:

    Yelp won’t help. Too many complains like this. Not to forget they are business and their business model is to serve the businesses that pay them the most money. To solve this issue, we are working on a transparent review model, much advanced than the current sites with effective means to promote your business apart from just getting user reviews, and fair to all parties. Won’t give much out now, too early in the game to let out the model but as summer nears you will be hearing more of the buzz online. Stay tuned🙂

  8. Kaye Hunter says:

    I also had concerns about our local Barnes and Noble and Borders Bookstores removed from Yelp for violating terms of service, but in reviewing the rules, I have no idea what Yelp is talking about. My concerns regarded the lack of support of either bookstore chain for local community efforts, and for being treated very rudely by their staff for soliciting support for a nonprofit. I just assumed that Yelp is bowing to two very powerful economic entities rather than putting out the feedback in order for the companies to address. I will never use Yelp again–it’s a joke.

  9. amy says:

    Hello,
    my name is Amy Bouzaglo,
    My husband and I own ABC Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale AZ.
    We have been virally attacked by Yelp and the New Times.they have even gone so far as to post online my Federal criminal History from 9 years ago for everyone to see just to personally attack my character and then told me to sue them.The people who posted my Federal court documents work for the New Times as editors.
    We have contacted Yelp and asked them to take down these horrible reviews, they will not. they even have sent personal emails to loyal customers of ours who have tried to post legitimate reviews telling them that they will not show those emails and blaming the customer for posing as me.

    http://www.amysbakingco.com
    they are calling me CrazyAmyB because I responded to a guy that came into our restaurant last Sat night who was acting rude and belligerent, who verbally insulted our 18 year old waitress by screaming profanities and her and then refusing to pay for his pizza. After my husband made him pay he sent me an email thru our website reading” I hope that $18 was worth it “and sent me the link to the Yelp review.
    http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/bella/2010/08/ouch_todays_hard_lesson_on_yel.php

    All you have to do is read the link Ouch today’s hard lesson on yelp.
    Thank you

  10. I should have over 30 5 star reviews most were removed and now I only have 9 reviews. Some of my client had even reviewed more than 2 other business’s. Every time I go to my yelp – help and put in removed reviews they have their same generic response they are only helping in case false review or to protect me for a vicious competitor. They then call me too advertise for $300.00 and I can’t afford that with the bad economy. What do I do. My competitors now have twice as many reviews as me and they have a lot people that have only reviewed them only once (I mean only one review is all this person has put on yelp) Maybe they paid the $300.00. This is so unfair! They have removed more than half of my reviews. but I bet if I had a bad review from someone like my husbands ex wife that wrote only one bad review about my business and too no one else they would leave it and then call me again and ask for $300.00
    Someone please give me some good advice or how to correct this problem because it is so unfair. I have one client that wrote me a review and I guess because she was a friend and a fan of my business face book page they remove her review within a few days.
    What do I do Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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