YELP and the Anonymous User

Yelp, a popular website where customers post reviews, allows users to post anonymously or by using their log in. When a business claims to be harmed by an anonymous review, how quick should Courts be to require that Yelp give the information behind the “anonymous” user in order for a business owner to pursue a defamation claim?

In January 2014, a Virginia carpet cleaning company suspected that seven reviewers who posted negative reviews made up the reviews altogether. In fact, Hadeed Carpet claimed that the seven reviewers were never even customers of the company. The Court believed that Hadeed had sufficiently reviewed company records, supporting their claim that the reviews were not written by actual customers of the carpet company, and therefore were defamatory.

Opponents to the Court’s ruling argue that Virginia’s standard for the claim of defamation is too weak, and that Haddad did not put forth any real evidence that these reviews were not written by real customers.

While my tendencies may not speak for the majority, Yelp reviews play a huge part in my decision to visit a restaurant, spa, or store. Negative reviews lead me to search for the next best place. Businesses should be able to protect themselves from fake reviews. If Courts are able to determine a balanced standard, the interests of free speech and protection against defamatory claims can be reached.

How will Courts balance these competing arguments? How easy will it become for a business owner who received an anonymous negative review to obtain the user’s real data from Yelp?

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