Businesses can not sue Yelp to acquire defamatory reviews eliminated, California’s Supreme Court has ruled. The conclusion overturns a lower court’s judgment against Yelp, affirming principles that protect internet platforms from legal accountability over users’ posts.
The court handed down a decision on Hassell v. Bird, where a law firm sued a dissatisfied customer for posting falsely negative reviews. Yelp was not directly involved in the litigation, but when a court sided with the law firm, it included an arrangement that made Yelp — along with the customer — responsible for eliminating the offending reviews. Yelp argued that this arrangement violated the broad protections granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but lower courts disagreed, stating that the removal order was not directly threatening Yelp with accountability.
New Court Rules for Yelp
The Supreme Court found that this interpretation of Section 230 overly narrow, and wrote that holding Yelp to another standard because it was not named as a suspect was an”end-run” around the law. A removal order such as the one against Yelp could”interfere with and undermine the viability of an internet platform,” and”the exceptional place of online intermediaries convinced Congress to spare republishers of online content… from this kind of continuing entanglement with the courts.” The Yelp reviewer remains legally required to select the down review, in addition to paying damages to the law firm.
Yelp celebrated the decision in a blog article, stating that”online publishers in California can be ensured they can’t be lawfully forced to eliminate third-party speech through enterprising abuses of the legal system.” However, the lawyer representing the defamed law firm called it”an invitation to spread falsehoods online without consequence.” The Associated Pressreports that the company is considering an appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Yelp testimonials are a legally contentious area. Along with individual defamation suits such as the one above, aggrieved Yelp users have sued the company for alleged crimes such as extorting companies with review scores and inflating stock prices by exaggerating its reliability. In 2016, Congress passed a law to prevent companies from suppressing customer testimonials. And last month, one Yelp consumer was sentenced to prison for writing falsely negative reviews — he left in retaliation after obtaining a past prison sentence for extorting the business with negative reviews. Buy Yelp Reviews here
Its scope was limited by recently signed legislation FOSTA, and it has been misinterpreted to assert that social media platforms should not be permitted to moderate user posts in their own platforms. This ruling does not change any of this — but the decision makes it easier for platforms to resist claims that they are necessary to moderate posts.