02 Aug Consumers, Small Business and Yelp: The Free Speech Controversy
Yelp and Free Speech
No doubt your business has a Yelp profile. Consumers check that before deciding to go to you for what they need. But what type of transparency is there for consumers as to what online reviews have been removed by Yelp, which ones stay up but could be phony reviews, and if you – the business owner – have any control? It’s a great question as well as an issue that’s been building for years within the Yelp community. Yelp recently started flagging businesses too, as they say, protect the consumer first and foremost. There are plenty of moving pieces that have all led up to this including court battles, Yelp Free Speech lawsuits, business owners making angry-worried-crazy moves and what it means for you.
There have been a series of court cases that have ruled in the favor of Consumers and have affected Yelp’s practices, which in turn are having pretty solid repercussions for consumers and businesses.
2014 Yelp Ruling for Consumers: In late 2014 a Bill was passed in California titled the ‘Yelp Bill.’ It came about afterword that certain companies were putting caveats in contracts that prevent customers from saying negative things about them online. Crazy right? Contracts from Businesses like Dentists, contractors or travel services inserting clauses in agreements that say the consumer is restricted from writing negative comments, no matter what their experiences. The ‘Yelp Bill’ was one of the first to protect consumers from ‘non-disparagement’ clauses and makes them null and void.
2015 Ruling for Yelp and Consumer Identities: A case was brought to the table by Hadeed Carpet who claimed that commenters on Yelp were not actually customers of the company. Yelp argued that the reviewers’ speech was protected by the First Amendment. Hadeed started receiving a string of harsh reviews on his Yelp page and claims that business sank tremendously because of it. So Hadeed sued 7 reviewers for defamation as well as demanded that Yelp reveal their true identities.
In another huge victory for Yelp and it’s commenters a Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Yelp could not be forced to reveal the identities of a user who had posted negative reviews.
Yelp’s “Consumer Alert” warning: In 2015 Yelp started actively marking companies with a ‘Consumer Alert’ about shady practices but this time it’s gone Legal! The newest warning lets you know if there have been Questionable Legal Threats. Yelp is taking the stance that they are protecting consumers who don’t know if a company who is suing consumers is doing so out of merit.