Hey, curmudgeonly Yelp reviewers: You can no longer hide behind the Internet cloak of anonymity. A court in Virginia has declared that the the First Amendment does not protect users posting to the review-based site Yelp.
The decision was reached after Joe Hadeed, owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Virginia, began proceedings against the San Francisco-based company because “seven users had left anonymous negative feedback about his business on Yelp,” reports the BBC. The U.S. court found that Hadeed presented “sufficient reason” that some of the user reviews were not written by actual customers. Typically, the First Amendment protects online reviewers because it is someone’s actual opinion based on first-hand experience as a patron.
In a statement released by the Virginia court, they outlined the reasons for the ruling, saying, “If the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead the review is based on a false statement.” The First Amendment does not protect against slanderous speech. If the reviewers are subpoenaed, it might make us all reconsider next time we want to complain publicly about those fries.