Court orders anonymous Yelp users to be identified

Negative comments posted on the review site Yelp will no longer be entitled to anonymity, a US court has said.

Joe Hadeed, owner of the carpet-cleaning business Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, had claimed that reviews about his company on Yelp made false claims and were not posted by real customers.

A court in Virginia subsequently found that the posts were not protected by the First Amendment, which refers to the impediment of free speech, as the reviews were based on a "false statement".

"Generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is a person's opinion about a business that they patronised," Judge William Petty said in a statement.

"If the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead the review is based on a false statement."

Yelp was disappointed with the result, claiming that it would allow businesses to "silence online critics".

In a statement following the ruling, Yelp spokesperson Vince Sollitto said: "Other states require that plaintiffs lay out actual facts before such information is allowed to be obtained, and have adopted strong protections in order to prevent online speech from being stifled by those upset with what has been said.

"We continue to urge Virginia to do the same."

Last year Yelp admitted that up to 25 per cent of its submitted reviews could be fake, as companies seek to influence consumer's opinions. This is despite the fact such practice is in direct violation of the site's content guidelines.

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