E-Commerce and Free Speech

Friday, April 25, 2014


If the process of unmasking anonymous negative commenters is too easy, then defamation lawsuits could be used to intimidate consumers. If it’s too hard to find out who’s slandering your business online, then business owners are basically being told to sit there and take it. Alex Goldmark of WNYC’s New Tech City takes a closer look at both sides of this complicated issue.


Raighne Delaney, Joe Hadeed, Scott Michelman and Jenn Palmer


Alex Goldmark

Comments [4]

Paul Alan Levy from http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=396

The story is well done and covers several interesting issues raised by the Kleargear case as well as by Hadeed Carpet Cleaning’s subpoena to Yelp. Unfortunately, Hadeed can’t resist coloring the significant issues of public policy and First Amendment law by lying about statistics relating to his business.

He told Alex Goldmark, as he had previously told the Wall Street journal, that a handful of negative anonymous reviews appeared on Yelp and “and then his business began to drop off” (the figures he gave the Wall Street Journal were more specific: he claimed that after a few anonymous negative reviews appeared on Yelp in early 2012, his business went down 30% in 2012). http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303847804579477633444768964

In fact, the negative reviews whose authors Joe Hadeed’s firm is trying to identify were dated between December 2011 and April 2012, but similarly negative reviews (from people Hadeed apparently admits were his customers) appeared on Yelp from 2009 through the present. http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2014/04/has-hadeed-carpet-correctly-blamed-yelp-for-punishing-companies-that-dont-advertise.html Moreover, Hadeed gets consistently negative consumer reviews from the users of Swashington Consumer Checkbook, and it has a C-minus rating with the Better Business Bureau because of an accumulation of unresolved complaints. (both of these are linked from the blog post above) Hadeed’s ratings are so low on Angie’s List (because of a series of complaints dating back several years) that it tried to get Angie’s List to stop listing the business, presumably hoping to hide the serious criticisms from other customers. http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2014/04/hadeed-carpet-cleanings-manipulation-of-its-appearance-on-angies-list.html

So, the issues are interesting, but Hadeed has yet to show any good reason for believing that the handful of negative anonymous reviews at issue in the litigation had anything to do with its loss of business.

Apr. 28 2014 12:18 PM
Bette Page from north california

I found the story on poor YELP to be hilarious, since I, as the consumer, experienced the opposite treatment. A "small" consignment center sold my property and 6 months later had not paid me, despite my efforts. I yelped them negatively, they responded. And a few days later YELP emailed me they had removed my review as "the content posted does not appear to be your own". ???

I reposted. They removed it again. A week later I finally got a check in mail, but by then I had filed a BBB complaint, so I doubt YELP influenced them. I do believe YELP lets businesses pay them for removal in a quid pro quo for taking an online Ad. Their ad showed up when I went to check on them.

Apr. 27 2014 06:00 PM
Michael Blank from Chattanooga, TN

I really wish that media outlets would stop perpetuating the idea of all free speech being first amendment protection. The attorney who has an interest in anonymous comments and stated there is a first amendment protection is misrepresenting the rights. The first amendment prevents the government from creating laws stifling speech. A private company has no requirements beyond abiding by their privacy policy. Why did OTM not clarify that private companies have the right to retain or disclose information.

Apr. 27 2014 01:55 AM
LAD 13 from Brooklyn

I might be in the minority, but I don't pay much attention to negative Yelp reviews. I give more cred to the positive ones. This is because it's much easier for the lay-reviewer to write negative than to write positive. Plus negative reviews can often be fueled by some petty business that has nothing to do with the establishment. There is also a business in 'blackmail' where a reviewer offers to remove their post for a fee.

This theory was confirmed by a coworker who has made it her business to trash most establishments she enters. Yelp has empowered her 'drama' and her tirades about what happened to her at whatever shop or restaurant always revealed that she was the problem, not the establishment.

Yeah, I know there are bad business practices that should be revealed. I just wish there was a more trustworthy method to vet the bad comments. I mean I would think Yelp could easily find out those commentors who are proven trolls, and if they can't prevent these trolls from posting, then at least Yelp could color code these posters to alert the readers certain posts could contain an agenda.

Apr. 26 2014 09:56 AM

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