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  1. #1
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    The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Disclaimer: The following represents my personal view only and does not necessarily reflect the views of Linda, this web site, or other moderators of the Local Search forum.

    There have been a flurry of stories over the past few days proclaiming the recent court decision involving anonymous Yelp reviews as the threat of the millennium against free speech, such as this one: Yelp: Court Ruling on Anonymous Customer Reviews 'Could Have a Chilling Effect on Free Speech' - Search Engine Watch (#SEW).

    Frankly, this is getting increasingly annoying as every blogger and his brother jumps on the bandwagon... the dog days of January for bloggers maybe?

    How is this a threat to freedom of speech? Where did it ever say that free speech depends on anonymity?

    The essence of the concept of freedom of expression is that people have a right to express their opinions on diverse topics even when you or the government of the day disagrees with those opinions. There have always been some limitations on free speech, wrapped up in other legislation about slander or libel, racism, hate crimes, and the like.

    Anonymity has never been and should not be confused with freedom of expression. Your right to state an opinion about a company's products or services is not infringed by the company demanding that if you do you identify yourself. This is especially true in the case of a negative review, where in effect you are accusing the company of delivering a shoddy product or service. In keeping with the other basic laws of the land, an accused has the right to face his accuser to speak to the accusations made against him. If you, by using Yelp or or by any other means, want to accuse an individual or company of false advertising, shoddy service, etc., nothing in the recent court decision prevents you from doing so or infringes at all on your right to do soi. It simply says that if you are going to slam someone in a public forum you will be required to identify yourself to allow the accused to defend himself.

    Not only does that NOT infringe on the right to freedom of expression, but it seems eminently reasonable and fair to me.

  2. #2
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    First Amendment protects opinions, but not intentionally provided false information. Trolls are not protected by the Freedom of Speech.

  3. #3
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Yelp's response to the verdict, unwillingness to follow court orders or support the business owner who is just trying to protect his good name and reputation tells you everything you need to know.

  4. #4
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    The Yelp reviews in this case were obviously false and the court had probable cause that they constituted libel. Anonymity, however, does have its place in protecting free speech.

  5. #5
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Having a business wherein I know competitors hit us with spam attack reviews by anonymous yelpers who were not in our client data base, never responded to our internal yelp communications, flat out made a lying statement....and having been unable to get yelp to pull down the neg attack reviews.....

    ...and then having received some other attack reviews from competitors....

    I was sympathetic to the decision by the court in Va that sided with Hadeed...the guy/business who pursued this case.

    then I read the reviews on yelp. Oh boy. A lot of miserable ones. Some thematic similarities having to do with possible sneaky behavior by the operation. The reviews themselves were spread over a reasonable period of time.

    You have to read these: Hadeed Carpet - Alexandria, VA

    I got the gut feeling this business gives consistently crummy service.

    I checked both yelp and google+ for carpet cleaning services and reviews in the region. Not a lot of data on google but a good number of smb's that were reviewed in yelp...with a good number of them having good ratings.

    In theory I was pleased with the ruling. smb's should have a right to defend themselves against purposefully attacking reviewers that are anonymous.

    But..ugh. this smb has a lot of horrendous reviews.

    I liked that ruling...but jeez...I wouldn't bring a rug to hadeed!!!

  6. #6
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Quote Originally Posted by painperdu View Post
    Anonymity, however, does have its place in protecting free speech.
    How? I can see where it protects malice. How does it protect free speech?

    Added: I'm not trying to be argumentative here. I really don't understand how anonymity became bundled with freedom of expression.

  7. #7
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Well-said, David. Freedom of expression doesnít mean freedom from the consequences of that expression.

  8. #8
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Rozek View Post
    Well-said, David. Freedom of expression doesnít mean freedom from the consequences of that expression.
    Phil: I see reviews as an extraordinary conundrum rife with complications. Having been the recipient of reviews that I know were planted by a competitor with the intent of ruining the credibility of a business, that had far more credibility than the specific competitor because we've outperformed them, out satisfied customers of theirs for years...I have an icky feeling about the power of reviews to screw a business. Especially malicious false reviews. Especially malicious false reviews that are completely faked and not tied to a real person.

    Now I could start creating false reviews in a second. Set up an email. set up a false identity. Send out reviews tied to yelp from an inexpensive tablet or mobile that I scarcely use tied to the false identity. Send them all from a starbucks or any ubiquitous place with free wi fi.

    I could blast the air waves with them. I could choose businesses I don't like and ream them....day after day. I could cost them business.

    Could yelp figure out who I really was with an underused email and a fake identity. Hell no. It would take lots of expense and money to track me down...if at all...long after I had caused targeted businesses lots of money.

    Yet read the Hadeed reviews over the years. Not good at all. The reviews are helpful to a reader. It seems....don't trust the company with a "price quote" let alone don't hope for good results. That is the impression I get from the reviews.

    I read reviews of other carpet cleaners in that region. Overall...far far better reviews than the sum total of the reviews for Hadeed.

    How many of the good and bad reviews were faked???? I can't tell. My gut feeling is I'd take my carpets that needed cleaning to another region....because I can't trust in the veracity of them.

    I think if I were Solomon (which is entirely unlikely ) rather than a judge in Virginia with its specific laws or any other state with somewhat tougher laws on "reviews" I might decide to require the effort to find the reviewers identities but I'd charge Hadeed through the nose to pay for that effort. Best as I can tell...Hadeed takes advantage of customers rather than satisfies them.

  9. #9
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    @Dave

    Very true. I think we agree with each other.

    As you say, reviews are a sticky area no matter what. Not knowing who your accuser is makes them infinitely more so.

    And yeah, I saw Hadeed's reviews. Not pretty. Still, I think it's only fair for him to know whether they're from customers or not.

  10. #10
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    Re: The Yelp Reviews case - how is this a threat to freedom of speech?

    Freedom of expression can be hampered out of fear of reprisal. If people fear that their criticism will be met with hostility then they are less likely to express their negative experience.

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