Yelp is THE destination for reviewing businesses, but online reviews could be taking a very different turn in the next few months after a Virginia court ruling. The ruling dictated that seven anonymous Yelp reviewers who left scathing remarks on a carpet cleaning business, must reveal their real names.
The issue began when the owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Virginia claimed that negative reviews published on the page were not written by actual customers as they were not matching up to the database. Yelp chose not to pursue it and the owner moved forward with a defamation lawsuit in 2012.
Were they Real Reviews?
Yelp’s terms of service condemns false reviews to inflate or deflate reputation and doesn’t require participants to use their real names, but it does record the user’s IP address.
The reviews for Hadeed did come from different IP addresses, but Hadeed’s attorney argued it could be coming from one disgruntled individual who set up multiple accounts at different locations.
The ruling relied on an interpretation of the First Amendment, which protects free speech. The court ruled that the reviews could not be verified because of the anonymity, so therefore they were ineligible for protection under the First Amendment right.
Is the ruling a blessing in disguise for protecting businesses?
“If a business wants to challenge speech and can’t verify the source because the author is anonymous, that shouldn’t be the business’s problem, it’s the author’s because they refuse to publish something that’s verifiable.” said reputation attorney Aaron Minc.
The Effects of a Bad Reviews
Is the pen mightier than the sword? A 2011 Harvard study found an extra Yelp star raised a company’s revenues by up to 9 percent. With that, it can potentially make or break a business.
With Yelps top secret algorithm, it leaves many business owners confused and feeling helpless about their reputation management.
What do you think of the court ruling and do you support it?