Yelp Wins in Court Again: Why a Lawsuit Won’t Fix Your Reputation

Why suing to have negative reviews removed is a waste of money

“We’ll have our lawyer contact Yelp and they’ll remove the review”. It’s a common response from organizations who have seen damage from negative online reviews. It’s also dead wrong.

Yelp in particular has been at the center of a number of lawsuits which seek to fight review sites’ right to display user-generated rankings. And Yelp has won, every single time. The latest clash to Court official law house buildinghit the press involves a libel suit filed by a Washington locksmith company whose owner claims Yelp allowed a rating for a different business to be placed on his page in an attempt to extort him to pay for on-page advertising.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and ruled against the business owner, with the three-judge panel calling the allegations “threadbare” and stating there simply was no evidence that Yelp falsified or fabricated content.

“We fail to see how Yelp’s rating system, which is based on rating inputs from third parties and which reduces this information into a single, aggregate metric is anything other than user-generated data.” — Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown

This is just one in a long string of rulings that makes quite clear that a lawsuit won’t make your online reputation woes go away. Courts have been unanimous in upholding the right for websites to display user-generated ratings, regardless of the damage they do to the businesses named or how nebulous the working of systems like review filters may be.

If your organization doesn’t have a plan to protect its online reputation that starts with a stakeholders’ first interaction then you’re eventually going to run into trouble. While you can certainly work to repair a reputation once it’s damaged, it’s much easier (and, let’s speak to what really counts in the minds of many business owners, less expensive) to build a cushion of protection before you take a big hit.

Erik Bernstein
www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

Comments 1

  1. Bobby Burton

    The problem is not the negative reviews but more so Yelp using extortion tactics to remove your 5 star reviews when you stop advertising. The moment we stopped a week later 3 of our 5 Star reviews were removed.

    They cite their algorithms do not detect a regular Yelp user therefore the system eliminates these types of reviews as a way to mitigate business owners abusing the system with fake reviews. The problems; a) there are legitimate reviews being eliminated b) bias based on new user vs regular user of which then sets off other protected act concerns on the user end.

    Bottom line, a lot of Yelp users complain about retaliatory actions by Yelp and this runs rampid on the internet . And it is well known within all industries Yelp’s Sales Associates are encouraged to favor businesses that spend more on advertising. Yelp will declare it is their policy to not be swayed but then in fact do the opposite when cultivating relationships with their best accounts. I speak from multiple of these experiences.

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