By Rebecca J. Rosenjan | The Atlantic
Over the past few years, seven people have been so dissatisfied with the service they received from Hadeed Carpet Cleaning of Alexandria, Virginia, that they took to Yelp to air the details of their dissatisfaction. They, like so many unhappy customers since Yelp launched in 2004, did so under pseudonym.
The right to complain—anonymously or not—is a right that Americans enjoy (and they do seem to enjoy it). But such complaints, in order to receive legal protection, must be factually true. “There is no constitutional value in false statements of fact,” the Court has held.
Hadeed Carpet Cleaning believes that those seven unhappy reviewers lied in their Yelp reviews. It’s not that the little details of the reviews were wrong, but that they were made up altogether. The seven reviewers were never customers at all, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning claims. If that is indeed the case, then the reviews are false. And if they’ve additionally caused harm, than the reviews are defamatory. (Though the decision does not explicitly say so, the implication is that false reviews on Yelp may be the pseudonymous, strategic communications of a competing firm.)
Statement by Chris Ingle, chairman Rose Law Group Cyber-Law Department:
“The judge is taking an interesting approach. The court cannot order Yelp to edit or remove the review, so it ordered the author to change the report. I have not seen that done before; this judge appears to be blazing a new trail. The more interesting case will be where the defendant cannot be located, or refuses to comply with the court’s order. If the defendant refuses to comply, the court can hold her in contempt, but I don’t see any way that the court could change the report on its own. Interesting development.