Bill Hartzer

Court Rules Yelp Must Reveal Identities of Anonymous Reviewers

A court has ruled that Yelp must reveal the true identities of people who have left reviews on Yelp. Specifically, Yelp has been ordered to reveal the identities of 7 people who have left (bad) reviews of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Alexandria, Virginia. This court ruling sets a precedent for online reviews, and, more specifically, the reviews by anonymous reviewers on Yelp.

Since Hadeed Carpet has had a Yelp listing, there apparently have been 7 people who have been dissatisfied with their service. So, they apparently posted bad reviews of Hadeed Carpet on Yelp. The problem, however, is that because these reviews are posted by anonymous people (anonymous reviewers), there is no way to verify that the people leaving these reviews were actually customers. There is, of course, a chance that the (bad) reviews were left by Hadeed Carpet’s competitors.

Since the reviews were left anonymously, and only Yelp really knows who left the reviews in question (the bad reviews), Hadeed subpoenaed Yelp to turn over the identities of those reviewers. However, Yelp refused to turn over the identities of the (bad) reviewers, so the case headed to court.

Last week, the court ordered Yelp to reveal the identities of the reviewers in question:

The Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled … that Yelp must reveal the identity of seven pseudonymous reviewers so that a company may sue them for defamation…

Attorneys for Yelp argued that the Virginia court should adopt what is known as the Dendrite standard, followed in several other states, which requires those claiming defamation to provide sufficient evidence to support that claim before the court will force anonymous speakers to reveal their identities…

The court declined to follow Dendrite. Instead, it said it must follow Virginia’s statute, Code § 8.01-407.1, which provides its own procedure for revealing the identities of anonymous speakers…

The court found that Hadeed Carpet Cleaning met all of the procedural requirements of the Virginia statute and, therefore, Yelp must reveal the identities of the reviewers.

So, previously, Yelp has refused to turn over the identities of people who have posted reviews on the Yelp site. However, now that a court has forced them to do so, what is the fate of online reviews on Yelp? Will Yelp be forced to reveal the true identities of reviewers if another company insists that they reveal the identities of reviewers?

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