When it comes to Yelp reviews, businesses expose themselves to a variety of comments -
from the happiest customers to the most outraged ones. One small business owner, Mr. Joe Hadeed, is taking a stand against several negative reviews posted on Yelp’s website. Hadeed is the owner and operator of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, a small, Virginia-based business with a listing on Yelp’s website. After his listing received several anonymous negative reviews, Mr. Hadeed decided to take legal action. Hadeed’s lawyer, Mr. Raighne Delaney “issued a subpoena demanding the names of [the] seven anonymous reviewers” (Howell & Swarts, 2014). Delaney and Hadeed argued that the reviews were created by fictitious customers and therefore were fraudulent posts.
Anonymity is protected under the First Amendment if reviews are written by actual patrons at particular businesses. The Virginia Court of Appeals noted that “the comments were not protected First Amendment opinions if the Yelp users were not customers and thus were making false claims” (Howell & Swarts, 2014). Hadeed cited evidence from his business’ database to prove that the Yelp reviews were not correlated with actual customers. Yelp was legally represented by Mr. Paul Levy who argued that Hadeed did not offer enough reasoning to justify the release of the customers’ identities.
By nature, anonymous Yelp postings support the release of critical yet honest opinions about businesses a service that supports the customer. On the contrary, unfavorable reviews can seriously defame business reputations. The final ruling by Judge William G. Petty stated that “First Amendment rights do not cover deliberately false statements and agreed that Mr. Hadeed provided sufficient reason to think that the users might not have been customers” (Howell & Swarts, 2014). As with most reviews posted online, opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. There’s no replacement for first hand experience.