Two weeks ago a Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that Yelp must unveil the identities of seven anonymous reviewers. This unprecedented ruling went in favor of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning of Alexandria, VA, who complained about there being many negative reviews about their business.
Yelp was hoping that their reviewers would be protected under the First Amendment, but the Court ruled that these reviews needed to be factually true to be protected, stating “There is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”
Hadeed claims that the reviews were completely made up. They believe that they’re not only false, but that they’ve caused the business harm, making them defamatory. In order to further this claim, Hadeed needs to know who these reviewers are. A subpoena to Yelp was met by a refusal to reveal identifies, which in turn led to the aforementioned Virginia Court of Appeals ruling.
While we await the release of the anonymous posters’ identities, as well as the legal proceedings that may follow, Yelp seems to be proactively seeking out fake reviews. Over the past six months Yelp has issued nearly 300 Consumer Alerts. Compare this to the eight Consumer Alerts that were issued in 2012 and you can see that Yelp is trying to curb a growing problem.
While not knowing their exact algorithm for determining fake reviews, one can safely infer that profiles that are not fully completed (no name listed) will likely be red-flagged.
The real question is how can Yelp prevent fake reviews in the future? The short answer is, they can’t. If you have a completed profile that’s linked to your Facebook account (to add legitimacy), and you have written many reviews, how can Yelp tell if you’re legit or not?
I expect more and more cases like the Hadeed one to pop up, despite Yelp’s best efforts to legitimize their reviews. What are your thoughts on Yelp?