Yelp Lawsuits Signal Rise in Internet Defamation Cases


By: Matt Foree
The ubiquity of social media and internet communications has drastically increased the opportunities for defamation.  The spread of defamatory statements to countless individuals is often as easy as pushing a button.
Recent defamation cases regarding user review websites, including Yelp, indicate that such lawsuits are on the rise.  For example, a Virginia case involving a homeowner’s negative review of a general contractor on Yelp went to a jury trial earlier this year.  Although the jury found that the homeowner had defamed the contractor, it awarded no damages, because it found that the contractor had also defamed the homeowner on Yelp in retaliation.
In another case that has garnered national attention and the interest of free speech advocates, a Virginia Court of Appeals recently ordered Yelp to reveal the identity of anonymous negative reviewers in a suit brought by a carpet cleaning company.  The company alleged that the reviews were false and posted by individuals who were not actually customers and that its business suffered by 30% as a result of the negative reviews.  The company requested that Yelp identify the anonymous reviewers, but Yelp refused, claiming the reviewers’ speech was protected by the First Amendment.  This case has been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Businesses would do well to handle negative on-line reviews on a case by case basis, as tactless and overbearing responses to moderately negative reviews can often create additional negative publicity.
If you believe your business is the victim of a false review, contact us to prepare the best strategy for dealing with it.