Online Free Speech Could Be Threatened As Judge Orders Removal of Some Yelp, Angie’s List Reviews

Recover Reputation’s Steven W. Giovinco Discusses Recent Controversial Case Where You Could be Sued for a Posting a Negative Review Online
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Dec. 6, 2012 - PRLog -- Could a poster be sued for a negative review on Yelp?  That could be the future if a case in Virgina goes forward, sending a shock wave through free speech and consumer advocates.

Steven W. Giovinco, from Recover Repudiation, an online reputation management boutique firm, worries about the outcome.  “If you can be sued for posting a one-star review, what’s next?  Being sued for stating your opinion in a blog post?” states Giovinco.

In a December 4, 2012 controversial ruling, a judge stated that a woman must remove parts of her review on Yelp and Angie’s List and that she cannot post the barred information on others sites.  She was sued for $750,000 as a result of the negative posting, according the Washington Post.

Free speech advocates are concerned this could be a trend, and Steven W. Giovinco agrees.  “It’s important for a business to protect their online reputation but banning opinion could be going too far.  The implications of this are wide ranging and could ripple throughout the internet on sites like Yelp and beyond.”

The judge ruled that someone cannot post libelous comments that damage a businesses reputation.  As a result, part of Jane Perez’s Yelp review about a Washington, D.C., building contractor, Christopher Dietz, must be removed and cannot be posted on other sites.  

Giovinco notes that reviews on sites such as Yelp are becoming more important to professionals such as lawyers, physicians, financial planners, and others.  “So too are legal actions over online reputations,” he says.

Some free speech advocates view these suits as attempts to stifle freedom of speech; customers see online reviews the as the only option to fight back against bad businesses.  Business owners say they are being forced to fight back because a false online review or post can cause serious damage to their online reputation and businesses.

Either way, this ruling could impact online reputations and free speech for nearly everyone.

The implications of this case and others like it that are cropping up are important to both free speech and online reputation management.
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