Speak Outs
Speak Out
Should reviewers be held accountable for negative reviews on Yelp?

February 19, 2014

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer

Imagine having the worst dining experience ever. The server messed up your order, the food was cold, and the manager was unapologetic. A dinner this bad might lead to a nasty review on Yelp. But should you be held accountable for any lost business when the owner says the review is inaccurate and defamatory?

A $750,000 lawsuit in Fairfax County, Va., says yes, you should.

A Washington, D.C.- based contractor is suing Jane Perez because of her one-star review on Yelp. The contractor, Christopher Dietz, contends the review was malicious, made false claims, and seriously hurt his business.

Perez hired Dietz’s company to do some work on her house. Perez says that the contractor’s workers damaged her house, charged her for work they didn’t do, and possibly stole some jewelry. Incensed, Perez went on Yelp and Angie’s List and posted a harsh one-star review, closing one post with “Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.”

Dietz says that the accusations are unfounded and that he did the work that Perez contracted him to do. After the job, Dietz says, his eight-year-old design and contracting company experienced a decline in work because of the negative reviews, costing him $300,000 in business and also personal stress. He said Perez’s comments about the missing jewelry and trespassing falsely implied that he had committed crimes.

First Amendment advocates and businesses are nervously watching the case. Advocates for freedom of speech argue that platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List help consumers and that commenters should be allowed to post their opinions without fear of being sued. They say that if Dietz wins, businesses will be able to stifle negative reviewers with the threat of lawsuits for expressing their opinion.

Business advocates contend that business owners should be able to defend themselves against inaccurate reviews. They say that the Internet allows false claims to live on a site forever and be spread, with no recourse to correct them unless the business owners take legal action.

The Virginia case is one of a growing number of suits filed over online reviews as sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List have grown more popular. Most suits have failed because the courts have sided with the free speech right of commenters to express their opinion. But lawyers caution that commenters need to be aware of what defamatory speech is. In Virginia, someone can be found liable for defamation if he states or implies a false factual statement about a person or business that causes harm to the subject’s reputation. Opinions are generally protected by the First Amendment.

What do you think?

Should Yelp reviewers be held accountable for what they write on the website? Do businesses need a way to defend themselves against negative comments? Is this a free speech issue? How should the case be resolved? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Diamond Bar, CA
I do not think reviewers should be held accountable for negative reviews on Yelp because a review is an opinion. If a company gets a negative review on Yelp, they should use it to improve their performance, not use it as an excuse for their company closing. Adding a review on Yelp is expressing your own opinion, and suing someone for it should be going against the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”

Diamond Bar, CA
I do not think that reviewers should be held accountable for negative reviews on Yelp. Even though I believe false negative statements on Yelp are wrong, that does not give companies the right to hold them responsible for them. As the Speak Out article by Jeremy Quattlebaum states, "Most suits have failed because the courts have sided with the free speech right of commenters to express their opinion," which is one reason why reviewers should not be held accountable for negative comments. Companies cannot suppress the people’s right to free speech; we do not live in a dictatorship or authoritarian ran country. Secondly, there is a difference between a defamatory remark and a negative review. A defamatory remark is false information used to damage an individual’s or organization’s reputation while a negative review is just matter of opinion. The first amendment allows us to exercise the right to share our opinions and it is up to others to decide whether they agree with it or not.

Sidney High School
Mikayla Holley
Mr. Faulhaber
People who leave negative reviews on Yelp should not be held accountable. The only reason they should be held against it is if the review is irrational. A few months ago, some people left odd comments on a hotel's yelp and gave them a negative review even when they have never even visited the hotel. It was based off the hotel's name, which was also a main thing in a popular T. V. show. Some fans of the show saw the hotel on Yelp, and decided to comment the bad things about this hotel based solely on the events that pertained to the hotel in the T.V. show. They SHOULD be held accountable for the loss of business because their reviews were unethical. Any other negative comment should not be held accountable, even if its in abundance and giving them a massive negative review.

Stroudsburg PA
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I do not think that people should be held accountable for the reviews on Yelp. The website Yelp was designed for people that have never been to that place to see what people think about it. Also it was designed for the owners of the places to see what people think about their place and what changes need to be changed about their place(if any). If someone did not have a good experience at a resturant for example, they are going to write a bad review on yelp. When people write a bad review on Yelp, most of the time it's not to intended to put the place out of business but to give them constructive criticism. I think that if a business sues someone for putting a bad review on Yelp it is a speech issue. Everyone is intitled to their own opinion and they are able to speak of it as they choose. I think that maybe instead of sueing someone for writing a bad review on yelp, investigate your restaurant or business and see if the comment was true! Then the business or restaurant could fix those things and ask the person to come back and if their experience is more enjoyable they could make a deal. The deal would be if the restaurant or business fixed all the things stated on the bad review and the person agreed then they would take down the bad review. This is what I think about yelp and the situation.

Leilani Z
I don't think that people should be held responsible for what they post on Yelp. If your service was utterly horrible, you should be able to prevent others from experiencing/enduring the same problem. I think if the restaurant or place wanted to better themselves, they would treat their customers better and with respect, that is the only way they will be able to defend themselves from bad review. This is a free speech issue, because if someone is being held against saying bad things about a place, they are being stripped of their freedom of speech right. The case should be viewed by the owners of the restaurant and find ways themselves to be able to fix the problem, such as treating future customers better.

Stroudsburg PA
Max Serrano
I don't think so because if you felt that your dining experience wasn't enjoyable then you are entitled to that opinion. I think that if owners want to hold you accountable for reviewing what you feel is the truth, then they should give better service to their customers

Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
Mr.Hanna Stroudsburg JHS
No I do not think reviewers should be held accountable for negative reviews on a yelp. They are supposed to state their opinion on whatever they are reviewing. If it is negative then maybe the people should have chosen a different person to review their product . The reviewer stated their opinion on what they were reviewing and they gave their honest opinion. I do not think a company can get mad at the person for stating what they thought of something

Murrieta CA
Mr.Jabro Creekside Highschool
No,reviewers should not be held accountable for what they write on a website. Businesses should not have a way to defend themselves against a negative comment unless they have video footage proving the specific reviewer wrong. It is not a free speech issue. It could be resolved by all reviewers must have solid evidence of why they are writing the bad review that way if it's checked upon later,they have evidence or they receive a fine for fraud.

Murrieta Ca
Stephanie Folston
Mr. Jabro Creekside High School
Yelp viewers should not be held accountable for what they post on a website. Yelp is for opinions and one opinion shouldn't ruin a whole business unless if its true. Businesses do not need to defend themselves, they need to be professional and prove that they are a good company by improving or moving forward. For example, there was a nail salon who would talk back to the clients on yelp who sent bad reviews about every issue they had and they instantly went out of business. It is definitely a freedom of speech issue! The case should be resolved by stopping the court case and ending connection with Yelp and businesses only customers.

Stroudsburg, PA
Ashley F.
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
In my opinion, Yelp reveiwers shouldn't be held accountable for what they write on the website, unless they're lies. If they are truly lies, then yes, the reviewer should be held accountable for what they said and making them loose business. If they really aren't lies, and he/she is telling the truth, then no, the reviewer shouldn't be held accountable for what they said. I feel that businesses do need a way to defend themselves against negative comments without making it into such a big deal, and also without lying. I feel that this is a free speech issue, because everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The case should be resolved by the customer and the business talking respectfully about the issue so they can fix what's wrong.

Stroudsburg, PA
Christian P.
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I feel that reviewers should and should not be accountable for bad reviews on yelp. I think both ways because if it is a bad review then that could be the persons honest opinion and just telling others how they personally feel about what they reviewed. I also think it is a bad thing because that person might just be telling lies about what they reviewed. Overall I picked both because you never know if the person is honest or not.

Stroudsburg PA
Nadia S.
Mr. Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
I don't think that reviewers should be held accountable for what they write. They write what they fell and it helps others in choosing businesses. I think busniesses need to find a way of defending themselves without causing to big of a scene. It is a free speech issue because Yelp is supposed to be a place where you go to write a review and say how you feel about a business yet businesses like Dietz are giving out $750k lawsuits for a bad review. It should be resolved by growing up and accepting the fact that your not always going to get good reviews.

Madeline R.
Mr.Hanna/Stroudsburg JHS
Should people be fined for their own opinions? Of course not if a bad review on Yelp or other websites causes a loss of business maybe they should try harder to satisfy their customers, not sue them. Bad experiences at restaurants or with contractors should be shared to the public so people are aware of the problems. The people should not be afraid to share their opinions and businesses should not be afraid of bad reviews if they are providing people with good service. It is totally crazy to sue someone for their opionion on a website even if it claims that they revived bad service,like the first amendment states we all have the freedom of speech

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