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Yelp’s High Wire Act

Who here has used Yelp?

I see every hand raised.  I know I use Yelp pretty frequently, but there is something about Yelp that is extremely troublesome to me.

In my practice, I have been contacted by business owners – all telling me the same story:

I had ___ five and four star reviews on Yelp.  I then received a phone call from Yelp trying to get me to advertise on their website.  When I declined, my positive reviews were either pushed down, disappeared or suddenly became “filtered.”

Sounds like a scam right?

It certainly is not fair for those business owners, but taking it a step further, are Yelp’s actions legal?

So far, courts have allowed Yelp to hide behind Section 230 of the Communications Act.  For the uninitiated, Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Act provides:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

Does screening reviews and determining whether they want to post them, keep Yelp under the above immunity?  What about liability for a business tort?

Yelp thus far has been playing a very high wire act and dancing through the raindrops.  At some point, a litigant with the stamina and proof will come forward and try and advance these claims (as far as I know all defamation claims against Yelp have failed).

When examining this issue, it is important to look at how Yelp filters certain reviews.  Jamie Davidson’s new blog is very insightful and actually examines how Yelp filters their own reviews.  Not surprisingly, Yelp’s filter system overwhelmingly filters out the negative reviews and few of the positive reviews.

More on this to come.

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