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Protecting Free Speech: Why Yelp Is Marking Businesses That Sue Their Customers (yelpblog.com)
192 points by medmunds on July 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments

My only concern is around the lack of ability for businesses to respond or request any level of verification that a person actually did business with them. The BBB at least contacts the business and oversees a process for resolution (documenting the entire thing).

I personally know multiple business owners who've dealt with threats from customers who will go and write a bad review if they don't simply bow to demands. Medical offices are another issue entirely because many medical professional don't even know if they are allowed to respond to complaints due to HIPAA.

I know one who even had a bad review from a phone call from a woman that simply called and yelled at them for not getting free service. It was their first and only review in years. Never even set foot in the building.

People are basically given permission to hang a sign on your front door that you're not allowed to take down.

I'm all for reviews and feedback but at least Amazon shows "Amazon Verified Purchase". Balance it somehow with either cross reference to the BBB or document how many years the business has existed. There are far too many businesses who've been open 10+ years with thousands of customers that have never felt the necessity to leave a review.

Without verification that the person has actually a customer, it's basically just libel.

> There are far too many businesses who've been open 10+ years with thousands of customers that have never felt the necessity to leave a review.

I wonder what could be a good way to incentivise this. If I like a restaurant, I'll go back multiple times. At most, I may leave a good review once. If I go to a bad place, I'm more likely to leave a bad review.

Maybe businesses could integrate a "did business here $x amount of times" button, similar to a like button or a check-in that would increment next to a review. If it was your first time, it could lead straight to leaving your first review.

My immediate thought is to have a 'universal review code' on your invoice, which somehow encodes the monetary amount of business as well as the date. Reviewers could use this code when leaving a review on a 3rd party site to prove they were a genuine customer. There's an opportunity for stalking or harassment if the business was able to correlate the code to an individual though, so the money and time might have to be bucketed. If a customer got a refund the same system could be updated to show the fact.

A company that sells a POS system (like Square) could do this. They'd have a record of verified purchases, and if you input your email, similar to with Amazon purchases, they can follow up with you to ask if you want to leave a review.

We were thinking about giving cards with the Tripadvisor name/link to restaurants to give then only to those customers that seems specially happy; however the local restaurants where I live are really technophobic so they just saw it as overhead with no benefit.

Technophobic? The industry that keeps insisting on just uploading PDFs of their menus instead of maintaining a proper website?

No way.

If a person has posted a completely bogus bad review, I, as the maligned merchant, have three choices. I can ignore it. I can post a response. I can sue the person.

I think it is quite reasonable for Yelp to note when merchants use the third option. As a consumer reading reviews, I learn slightly different things when I see:

A: Three good reviews and one bad review; the merchant responded to the bad review and their response sounds well-reasoned.

B. Three good reviews (one deleted review, but I can't see that) and one note from Yelp stating that the merchant has used the legal system to suppress reviews.

I do think it is important that since Yelp (not a customer) is making the statement that the legal threat was used, that Yelp take reasonable steps to ensure the legal threat actually occurred. Otherwise, a malicious user could falsely report receiving legal threats from a business as a way to harm their reputation.

A powerful aspect of foursquare is even if you don't check in, they've likely marked you as having been in a restaurant.

Feel like Yelp could at least use this for popularity measurements

Off-topic, but would Amazon have anything to lose if they completely purged all reviews by users without verified purchases?

It would certainly combat the spam reviews problem.

>but would Amazon have anything to lose

Potentially sales. Unfortunately they are in a spot right now where lots of normal people not aware of the fraud see a product with 2000 reviews and 4.5 stars and take that as a strong signal that it's a good buy. They are conditioned to think that 'lots of reviews == well vetted'. If suddenly the review counts plunge by 90% people might be more wary of making a purchase.

They almost need to figure out a way to keep both. Maybe keep the review count for everyone but make the star rating just based on verified purchases...

It'd be cool if they added a checkbox to see only verified reviews in your searches and product pages.

Amazon is already weighting reviews based on whether they are verified purchases, among other features: http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/amazon-updates-customer-reviews-...

Companies are gaming verified purchases now. There are several sites that provide a service of connecting reviewers with companies who provide their products for a hefty discount with the expectation of getting a perfect review.

Companies are allowed to vet your previous reviews to determine how likely you are to give a good review before giving you a discount code. If reviewers don't deliver, they stop getting discounted products, or even get banned from these sites.

That sounds like something the FTC should be all over.

Seems like an obvious thing for Amazon to check out then ban all reviews and or products on these services.

A few problems.

Banning products: Companies could knock out competing products by starting a "false flag" review campaign that Amazon eventually discovers.

Banning reviews: It can be legitimate to provide samples of products for people to review and helps encourage competition, it's more about the method of the approach.

The best approach is if Amazon just facilitated the whole approach to ensure integrity. I think they attempted this with their Vine program, but that might be too one-size-fits-all for some companies.

Banning products is not something you would do every day. It's the kind of thing you do randomly in large swaths so "false flag" operations are likely to hurt you as help and are not free.

Banning reviews: No it's not legitimate. Customer reviews are useful specifically because they are by people that thought the service might be worth while. If you can't afford a 911 or don't like the way it looks then your opinion is not meaningful.

From amazon's perspective review integrity is expensive but so is giving up. As a customer it feels like they gave up a while ago which opens them up to competitors.

EX: Newegg is where you buy video cards not Amazon.

Even verified purchases aren't necessarily real — some companies will reimburse reviewers to buy the product themselves so that it looks cleaner on paper. A good reviewer will mention that prominently first thing, but not all do.

probably those products which are only sold 'used' and only have 0-3 reviews total.

on anything with over 100 reviews, non-verified ones are just noise.

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Yelp is doing this? The same Yelp that was built on the back of some of the most aggressive, manipulative, downright shady marketing tactics out there?

I've heard multiple complaints from Mom & Pop shops in my neighborhood which basically amount to Yelp calling and saying "Sign up for our premium business package or the negative reviews stay at the top"

You're certainly not the only one. My first thought was that Yelp would only be doing this so they could sell removal of the sued-customer flag to companies.

Wondering the same thing... odd it has not been mentioned.

apparently there's a doc coming about this called "Billion Dollar Bully" from some small independent filmmakers which yelp is already trying to pre-emptively discredit: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/yelp-accused-mob-like-...


This absolutely does happen.

I have a small business that is facing it right now. I either pay the Yelp tax or they have taken our community-created page with all 5-star reviews completely off the site. Can still find it from Google search, but can't find it from search within Yelp. And if you search for us, they show our competitor as a search result.

Got a call from Yelp sales guy about an offer 'that expires this week', just the day after our listing could not be found.

Now, I can't tell you my business name, because they will bury it even further. Yelp is as shady as it gets on the internet.

PM me and I'm happy to tell you who I am after I confirm who you are.

> or they have taken our community-created page with all 5-star reviews completely off the site

Is this page inside Yelp? You have two business pages on Yelp?

What I could suggest is that you get (old) Yelp users to put (legitimate - not exaggerated) comments on your page.

And of course, you can make a video lambasting them on YT as well.

There is only one page. The community-created one. As a business, we never created one.

If you google "yelp $business", you can find this page today. If you go to yelp.com and search for "$business", it used to be there. But, in the last week, it was taken off the search results and now a competitor is shown as a search result instead.

Going back to the users is not feasible for us, because we don't know who they are! They are some of our customers who felt the service was great enough to leave glowing reviews. We didn't solicit it.

What actions to take is an interesting discussion for us. Ethics aside, we just might cave and pay the Yelp mafia tax, as a cost of doing business. Which is what they want. And we want to get on with our business.

Edit: $business = 'Real Business Name';

When you mean google "yelp $business" is $business like "chinese restaurante" or the actual name?

All pages are "community created", you can try to recreate the page if your page is gone, you go to "Write a review", search for it and then "Add a Business"

Of course you might pay, or take them to court as well

I'm not generally a distrustful person, panda888 - but how come you created a new account to post this comment?

Maybe you could post a little bit of background info about yourself and your lack of connections to Yell to avert any suspicion that you're not a genuine disinterested individual.

In any case - from my memory there were stories about this in the mainstream press. I can't vouch for their veracity but if you bother to reply then I'll try and find a few references.

off topic, is that what green highlighting on usernames means? age of account?

Yes, green accounts are new, not sure the definition of new being used though.

Honestly I don't even know which way is up anymore with the yelp extortion fiasco, so much misinformation and yelps defense sounds credible vs some random angry small business owners. My cynicism says they're executing the ultimate public relations and smear campaign against anyone who dares speak up, panda888 being some low level drone in a messaging agency they hired whose radar picked up this thread /tinfoilhat

As a SLAPP victim, Yelp's decision to punch-down against a pet-sitting business is a slap in my face. A few years back I was sued by a chain of business for $2 Million. These were private-equity financed businesses which serially sue customers, as I later verified using public records search. I complained to Yelp, to no avail.

I went to a lawyer who told me that they have a lot of cash in the bank and that I don't want to fight them, and encouraged me to sign a non-disparagement agreement and pay them some money and move on with my life. I took his advice.

I lost over $20K due to this, as well as months of frustration in which my career and family life took a hit.

Still quite angry, I watched, (using public records requests) as they continued to sue more customers, contractors, or anyone else. Eventually, I found a lawsuit in which they directly contradicted claims they had made in their complaint against me, and even provided 100s of pages of documents showing that my "defamatory" statements were correct! So I called a lawyer, who reviewed the documents and told me that I have a very strong case to have my settlement thrown out because it was fraudulent induced. However, he said that that due to their history of Trump-like earth-scorching, it would be a bad idea to pursue this without a big reserve of cash, patience, and nerves. (In fact, the lawyer, who practices in NJ, mentioned Trump by name as an analogy.)

When I was sued, my adversary was financed by private equity company funded by someone with over $10 billion net worth. (This was one of my assertions that I was sued for, which was later corroborated in court documents.) Yelp told me I was on my own. Now Yelp is taking on Prestigious Pets, in an effort to protect free speech.

So, Yelp, if you want to humiliate someone your own size, I'm happy to have a confidential discussion with your lawyers. Let me know how to get in touch with you.

Why is Yelp's project to help protect consumers from predatory companies a slap in your face?

Is it because they didn't jump to it and lay down the massive cash it would have taken to defend you? Do they somehow owe you? Do they dance to your tune?

An allegory:

As a fire victim, the town's decision to form a firefighter team is a slap in my face. A few years back my house caught fire. The mayor wouldn't organize to put it out so I was on my own.

I'm upset because they didn't stand up for the little guy against the big guy and then they decide to fight a little guy and claim they are protecting free speech.

I'm not saying they owe me. I'm saying they have a professed legitimate business interest in protecting free speech. They are claiming to be champions on free speech but they are only going after a pet sitting business and other small fry.

I'll update your allegory. Your house slowly burned down over a period of several months and the fire dept did nothing. Later the mayor busted two kids for lighting off bottle rockets, and declared the town to be leading the fight against fire.

"They are claiming to be champions on free speech but they are only going after a pet sitting business and other small fry."

I'd do exactly the same thing in their position. Start small. Learn the (legal) ropes. Build up victories, a war chest, and generals. THEN go after the big boys. Starting at the top is just plain irresponsible.

How adorable. Yelp taking the moral high ground. Once I wrote a negative review for a business describing my personal experience with them. The company first wrote me an email and asked me to remove it, I obviously didn't because everything I wrote was true. Then Yelp removed my review, because it was "irrelevant"! :-) Strangely enough, that business had all positive reviews on Yelp with near 5/5 score, while on Google it had a score of around 2.5/5. Does anyone even care about Yelp scores at this point?

>Does anyone even care about Yelp scores at this point?

Hundreds of millions of users?

Yelp, BBB, anyone who has a way to get money from the reviewed companies/professionals... impossible to remain unbiased. Haven't trusted, will never trust. Have a hard time believing Angie's List doesn't have the same issue in the other direction.

Finding unbiased, un-"washed" reviews is NP-hard :/

I think one of the things Yelp has caused (or, perhaps, needs to cause) is a change in consumer behavior related to bad reviews. I've learned, over the years, to disregard certain kinds of bad reviews[0] or not choose to avoid a company because it has a small number of poor reviews.

The Internet reminds of me of driving. Most people will scream at another driver for cutting them off on a merge -- assuming the driver was being aggressive and entitled (he thinks is time is so much more important than mine!). That same driver will find himself on a road, not paying enough attention, only to discover his lane is ending at the last second and expects another driver to let them in and understand it was just a mistake.

We scream because we don't see the other driver as a human being, just an angry caricature of a bad driver (and we're not actually confronting that driver directly). On the Internet, we'll rip a mom and pop or small restaurant business apart because of a server who had too many tables and one bad dining experience. That same person likely didn't talk to the manager or give them an opportunity to make the situation better because it's a lot less socially intimidating to hit Yelp and tear into them via a bad review.

[0] My favorite is "bed bug" reports at hotels. Practically every single hotel I've stayed at in the last few years has had at least one review claiming bed bugs (some with pictures for evidence). It's a problem pretty much everywhere and in those reviews I look for a hint about how the hotel handled the situation. If it was taken care of in a reasonable manner (regardless of what the reviewer feels was reasonable), I won't hold it against the hotel.

What you describe in your second paragraph is a general phenomenon called the fundamental attribution error:


It's definitely helpful to keep in mind.


I had a boss about a decade ago that, during a really tense situation at my last job involving a false report of an application of mine suffering from a serious security vulnerability[0], said to me: "Where there are gaps of understanding, people jump to the worst possible conclusion." It was demonstrated so well during the follow-up meeting (where my application was exonerated and the friendship remained) that I took it to heart and made it a sort-of life mission. When something goes wrong, people assume the absolute worst but, as the Fundamental Attribution Error "bias" points out, we judge others by a different set of rules than we judge ourselves.

If we assume that others are generally operating without malice as we assume ourselves to be, a whole lot of conflict is avoided.

[0] We had an app that was on a hardened box and had asked security to audit it. The person who audited it didn't read that message and logged into the box due to another reason. He was then shocked that this box was able to connect to all of our infrastructure (for audit purposes) and he was still able to log in (we gave him explicit permissions to do so). He changed the configuration (without any notification) causing the application to stop and reporting to fail, then tried to get it all shut down. We went into a meeting, angry, under the perception that security was trying to kill this app because they preferred their own (which didn't meet our needs) and he went in assuming we were trying to be devious because our hardened configuration made it impossible for their auditing tool to audit the app. We were both wrong.

Agreed. Yelp still has useful content, you just have to read a few reviews (good and bad) to see what patterns stand out.

My analogous example to your hotel:bed bugs is Chinese restaurants:service. I've been to enough Chinese restaurants in my life to know what to expect. Unless the reviews show a particularly unusual pattern, I'm ignoring that complaint.

Businesses making profit off entities with positive reviews has been the norm: e-commerce etc.

Business making profit off entities with negative reviews (GlassDoor, Yelp & friends) reek of protection-rackets. These services are best decentralized rather than be profit-seeking.

Soliciting someone to pay for an account to remove negative public reviews comes close to blackmail, correct?

Close, but not quite. Blackmail would be if they held the negative reviews and then released them if they refused to pay.

This is more like a sleezy PR person that offers to help bury a story that they themselves are promoting.

It's sort of like extortion.

How is GlassDoor a protection racket? Are there any genuine complaints about them screwing over businesses?

I once backed out of a job interview because of a slew of truly horrible reviews on Glassdoor. A bunch of current and former employees described a horrible work environment where the HR director, an "iron lady", seemed to run the place, with HR people in the parking lot logging what time employees came in, cameras in front of the bathrooms to see how long people were taking in there, etc. One bad review I'll generally ignore but this place was filled with a bunch of them; I'd never seen anything like it (and never have since).

The business model is so simple, I doubt the people who start those companies are interested in complication.

If Yelp put accuracy and completeness ahead of # of reviews, they'd have already made 2 changes:

1. Let anyone comment on other people's comments - like HN or Reddit, with similar reputation (points) and up/downvotes.

Right now, unless an owner monitors and responds to every negative comment, there's no recourse for being unreasonable or flat-out inaccurate. Even when an owner does so, the recourse is minimal. Let any other Yelp user reply, turning each comment into a thread.

2. When someone posts a 1- or 2-star review, show a second, required comment field for "What happened when you informed the retailer?"

If someone is served a meal they don't like and says nothing at the time, they skipped a - the - critical step. While there are cases where a low review could be justified without ever giving the retailer a chance to address the perceived problem (like if someone showed up twice during posted business hours and the retailer was closed), they cause fewer than 10% of 1- and 2-star ratings and they're easy to explain. Otherwise, the minimum for a negative review to be constructive is having informed the retailer (and let them try to address it).

There have been many times I wished for an up/down vote on Yelp reviews.

Doing the right thing in one instance of one aspect of "free speech" is not "protecting free speech".

Protecting free speech is about a framework of process, transparency, inclusion, and democracy.

Yelp is not a transparent, inclusive democracy with processes in place to ensure we can each express ourselves freely. It is a business, driven by business decisions, run by business people, for its customer, in the interest of it owners.


I like the strangeness of the situation. If private company does A, it's not about free speech because that's a government thing. If private company does B, look at this company protecting our free speech!

I wish as a society we can make up our minds on this.

Voted your comment up, but wanted to add,

The "strangeness" indeed. But making up our mind as a society seems like it would be an unhealthy development.

I believe one reason the U.S. has been so resilient is the combination of schizophrenic like policy and action (caused by three branches of federal government, federal and state split, and 50 separate states) and the pressure/safety-valve mechanism that is our election system.

Add corporations, NGOs, etc into the mix and it all becomes even more schizophrenic. Though, corporations add psychopathic to the mix more than any other of the flavors, given their incessant drive to produce profit for their shareholders.

I think the problem-issue has less to do with strangenes, more to do with honesty. I don't believe we'd allow a person to treat other people and, to the point, make the kind of claims we're talking about, without calling bullsh-t on them. Corporations would make horrible citizens. But they are "persons". So if these persons are not citizens, what are they???

I guess the problem for yelp and for businesses is that yelp wants to be the crowd sourced zaggat's. Semi honest reviews of businesses.

For most people it's a place to complain about businesses and most don't make an effort of being a good reviewer, even when they want to just provide a public service review. They tend to be subjective personal opinions of businesses.

This blog post is missing some important details. Sometimes legal actions from businesses are empty or meritless. However, what if it's legitimate libel? Labeling any legal action as "questionable" seems odd. How do they differentiate?

I think the biggest problem with Yelp is fake reviews intended to harm a business either from competition or disgruntled ex-employees. They allow 1-star reviews from throwaway accounts to stay on the front page and filter 5 star reviews from active users unless you pay for their service which includes 'account management support' to dispute fake reviews.

I wouldn't be surprised if Yelp added a feature where businesses that sue their customers can pay a fee to remove the mark.

Businesses can perhaps incentivize their customers to write good reviews by offering a discount in exchange for a review on Yelp. When the customers are paying the bill, they can ask them for a 1-5 star rating posted alongside a photo of that customer to their Yelp page as some sort of a proof that the said business is not making up those star ratings.

I'm sorry you're getting downvoted, but to explain why I think this opinion isn't popular, look at Amazon. There's an entire sub-economy of exchange for reviews with unspoken rules. Choose about any product and you'll likely find the phrasing "I received a discount in exchange for my unbiased review of this product" or "I receive a demo version of this product in exchange for my unbiased review", or some other similar disclaimer.

There's nothing technically wrong with what's happening there, since there is no formal arrangement of good review = free product, but it's perfectly understood without a single word being said that if your reviews are too critical, you will not be receiving discounts/demo items in exchange for an unbiased review any more.

Your idea isn't quite the same if I understand it since the restaurant isn't enticing people in with the promise of a discount for reviews, but it's hard to say that you're not being influenced for favor when receiving something like that. It's why I believe it's a journalistic ethical standard to refuse gifts/outings from businesses and individuals as it may compromise journalistic integrity. Whether or not that's actually followed or just a super-ideal is another matter entirely

Good to see businesses advertising this too.

It's already against the law for a business to punish you for writing a negative review. Many people do not know they can sue when a business tries this. That's what the Consumer Review Fairness Act is about - letting the public know their rights. It's basically the government trying to teach people the law. And Yelp would be helping by promoting this.

Good job Yelp.

This first amendment says the government can't abridge your speech. The government is not doing that here, so mentioning the first amendment adds more confusion to the concept of free speech than it adds clarity. It's about as useful as mentioning any of the other amendments.

If customers were actually in legal peril for writing honest but negative reviews of businesses on Yelp, then that would be the government abridging their speech. The court system is part of the government.

This message's purpose is to educate customers that the legal threats businesses are making in those situations are idle ones. They're idle ones because of the first amendment.

It's perfectly relevant here.

No, businesses are saying that it's libel or slander or something else, and if you responded to their suit by saying anything about your first amendment rights, your be laughed out of court.

Yelp's message should be about libel and slander and things like that.

"No" what? Those are the legal threats both I and Yelp are talking about. Here's the case Yelp used as an example:


The business sued for libel. The customer's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss, citing first amendment rights. The business dropped its suit. Nobody's laughing.

The business filed a second suit, this time alleging the customer violated a non-disparagement clause in a contract with the business. The customer's lawyer filed another motion to dismiss, citing their first amendment rights. That one's still pending, but nobody's laughing.

Here's a copy of the ANTI-SLAPP motion to dismiss the second suit. SLAPP laws exist to ensure the courts are never used to impede your first amendment rights via the cost of mounting a legal defense. Showing that the defendant was exercising their right of free speech is a required element of making that motion, so it's certainly not going to provoke any laughter in the courtroom.


Nothing to do with the post, but I wonder why they've chosen to host the blog on a separate domain instead of a subdomain on the official site. I did confirm blog.yelp.com redirects to it, but still it's easy to be suspicious of a separate domain not having the same owners.

I gather that this sort of thing happens a lot because the bureaucracy around getting IT to set up a subdomain is so onerous that it becomes easier to just buy a new domain and set it up independently.

But wouldn't IT buy and set up the new domain?

Normally, yes, but it's quite possible for another department to go out and do it themselves. Corporate policies might not forbid it, or the other department might not care about breaking policy. All you need to set up a new domain is a credit card and a web browser, after all.

After consulting with a large retail chain that also has a decent sized web presence, I've found that IT can be an adversary to getting things done quickly. The web team commonly needed new domains set up, IP changes, SSL certs and other related tasks done and IT would take days to complete them. The web department ended using other domains for things like job postings and marketing so changes could be completed in hours.

My guess is when you see things like this, there is an adversarial relationship between departments.

Not that Yelp doing this isn't a good thing, but an obvious side benefit for them is that they now have a database of super litigious folks who they know to steer their shady marketing practices well clear of because they don't want that kind of headache.

This sounds a little odd to me:

>the Consumer Review Fairness Act, prohibits inclusion of gag clauses in consumer form contracts

Won't that just lead to some businesses asking you (in a sneaky way that you don't realize unless you read several pages of legalese) to sign an NDA?

It would be really helpful to also see the reviewers summary. Then that way I could see if the reviewer is usually balanced or positive then a negative review has more weight whereas if you are a serial bad mouther I can more easily discount your opinion.

> may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech

I'm not a lawyer... but doesn't this open Yelp up to allegations of libel?

As a side note, I am really starting to be irritated by confirmation buttons that say things like "Got it, thanks!". Stop putting words into my digital mouth!

> but there will always be a small handful of businesses who mistakenly think it’s a good idea to threaten consumers who exercise their free speech right

Wh... what? the free speech right only covers repercussions initiated by the government. Businesses are not the government so consumers have no free speech right or expectation here.

>the free speech right only covers repercussions initiated by the government. Businesses are not the government so consumers have no free speech right or expectation here.

That's a provincial US view, constricting it to what the constitution says, etc.

In any case, it's inadequate for the era that we live in.

There's more to free speech and freedom of expression than avoiding "repercussions initiated by the government", especially these days where large private interests can be as large or larger than governments and equally powerful.

Even if the government is allowing you to speak up against some mogul in X Latin American country, if he has his people intimidating or even killing you, that's an attack on your "free speech".

In the same way, big business can stifle free speech, as can various churches, internet companies censoring stuff selectively, etc...

>In any case, it's inadequate for the era that we live in.

>There's more to free speech and freedom of expression than avoiding "repercussions initiated by the government", especially these days where large private interests can be as large or larger than governments and equally powerful.

This recent trend of people from the left encouraging infringement on speech by corporations been very shocking to me.

The judiciary is capable of awarding civil sanctions and damages to a private person - natural or artificial - even if those damages are on a claim on the basis of speech.

To create your version of reality, it would require a radical interpretation from the Supreme Court, or new and separate laws passed from Congress and every state and territory to limit the powers of the judicial branch.

As it stands there is no framework in this country to uphold your version of free speech. If you feel it is inadequate for the era that we live in, then sure, keep advocating for it. This has no bearing on the correctness of Yelp's pseudo-legal interpretation in their sounding board. They are equally within their right to censor their own forum, with their disproportional influence, but their rationale does not make it accurate.

Please roll that up in thick paper and whack the dumb XKCD "free speech" comic with it.

Debate by Webster's definition like it's 1996, ack, thbbft!

Free speech encompasses any government action that limits your freedom of expression whether initiated by the government or carried out by the government on behalf of another party.

In effect the government cannot act to limit your freedom of speech without a very narrowly defined compelling reason I'm not sure why you believe otherwise.

Further frivolous lawsuits as a threat to free speech are so commonly understood we have an acronym for it

SLAPP: A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.[1] Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.

> the free speech right only covers repercussions initiated by the government.

No, because freedom of speech and expression is a concept central to Western culture. The First Amendment is just one specific implementation of guaranteeing that freedom as it relates to the US government.

Those businesses are using the courts, one branch of government, to suppress free speech.

Lawsuits are absolutely governed by the constitution. You are using the force of the government to bring about your will. So the first amendment absolutely factors into how a speech related lawsuit plays out.

-Not a lawyer. Not legal advice-

The judiciary is capable of awarding civil sanctions and damages to a private person - natural or artificial - even if those damages are on a claim on the basis of speech. To create your version of reality, it would require a radical interpretation from the Supreme Court, or a new and separate laws passed from Congress and every state and territory to limit the powers of the judicial branch. As it stands there is no framework in this country to uphold your version of free speech. If you feel it is inadequate for the era that we live in, then sure, keep advocating for it. This has no bearing on the correctness of Yelp's pseudo-legal interpretation in their sounding board. They are equally within their right to censor their own forum, with their disproportional influence, but their rationale does not make it accurate.

Comments superficially like yours are sometimes true, but in this context what you're saying is not relevant. Yelp could delete reviews if they felt like it. However, the 1st amendment does protect both the consumers and Yelp from the businesses, because it also "covers repercussions" carried out by the government on behalf of anybody. The businesses have to prove libel, otherwise they can suck it up.

This is cynnical of me, but I feel like in a way Yelp is catering to techies and others with the free speech angle, since it's kind of a very easy way to get a very large crowd on your side.

Technically speaking, you're right that the legal definition of Free Speech doesn't apply, but there's a moral principle of free speech which has been the subject of a lot of debate in recent years, with persons of varying political backgrounds and agendas arguing about whether abusive speech should be promoted as the poster-child for free speech. (though I'm hesitant to invoke any of this for fear of it exploding...stuff like the Twitter fights that people get into over things like misogyny, misandry, rape, social justice, etc)

Basically, like with a lot of topics online, there's a built in audience you gain access to if you say the right incantation; if you're not clear on what I mean, just look at any topic about the NSA or encryption on HN and look at some of the more popular comments; you'll get an idea of how by stating a stance, you can sometimes get new audiences.

The childish cynic in me thinks that this is what Yelp is doing, along with cementing their business model as free speech. Yelp has been guilty of extortion like practices in the past against businesses, and their users are equally obnoxious with restaurants at times. There was even a Southpark episode about it, so it was wide spread enough to be picked up offline. I honestly don't think Yelp really gives a rats ass about its users, it's just this sort of pro-consumer stuff is majorly beneficial to Yelp. There's no doubt in my mind that Yelp would gladly take the notice down if the price was right and the business did a bit of advertising for Yelp.

Not that I can prove that. This is all just a misanthropic rant on my part, and I am not trying to pass it off as anything else. But the point is that there's a lot more to "free speech" than the US legal definition right now.

Private businesses can suppress freedom of speech because (unlike for the government) there is no law preventing them from doing so.

Private businesses cannot with impunity use the courts to suppress free speech. This is why the majority of states have laws that attempt to combat such lawsuits. Essentially the majority of states do have a law preventing them from doing so.

There is a whole set of laws and regulations regarding it, queue the FTC. That's why we have a consumer protection organization.

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