Your Anonymous Reviews and Comments May Not Be Anonymous Much Longer

Screenshot by Kaitlin Steinberg
A Virginia court set a new free speech precedent, and Yelp ain't happy about it.
So much for free speech.

Last week, a Virginia court ruled that Yelp must turn over the identities of seven anonymous reviewers of a carpet store because the commenters may not have been actual customers. According to Yelp's terms of service:

"You may expose yourself to liability if, for example, Your Content contains material that is false, intentionally misleading, or defamatory; violates any third-party right, including any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, moral right, privacy right, right of publicity, or any other intellectual property or proprietary right; contains material that is unlawful, including illegal hate speech or pornography; exploits or otherwise harms minors; or violates or advocates the violation of any law or regulation.

The part that stood out to the court in Virginia is the bit about "material that is false." According to the court, these statements aren't protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. By that logic, neither are your restaurant reviews on Yelp or your anonymous comments on blogs unless they're clearly non-libelous opinions or verifiable statements of fact ... Right?

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My Voice Nation Help

less concerned about these crowd-sourced sites like Yelp that no one takes seriously at face value. more concerned about sites that pretend to journalism but are little more than press releases masquerading as news or criticism...eater, culturemap type venues


There is, or should be, a reflexive skepticism about online reviews and commentary. I think (and hope) the entire generation that's grown up with the aforesaid is saavy enough to navigate through the mine-laden sea that the internet has become.

WestSideBob topcommenter

Yelp has been a poor way to get anything other than the address, hours and other data on a business.  I don't read "user" opinions because they are unverified, good or bad.

KaitlinS topcommenter

@vonSchiessen I like to think that people are savvy enough to wade through the crap too, but apparently business owners aren't that chill about it.

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