Suing over negative Yelp reviews (and a better response)

A friend of mine, Michael Blacksburg, represents defendant Christopher Norberg in a case where a chiropractor has sued over a negative review on Yelp. They’re in mediation today, trial in March if it doesn’t settle.

The case raises complex issues for everyone such as:

  • where are the lines between fact and opinion
  • how much should that legal distinction apply to consumer review sites?
  • how should online review sites be structured to be fair to both sides?
  • how should they handle negative comments?
  • how should reviewer reputation and identity contribute?
  • what about anonymous reviews?

The Chron has a good story (and an editorial), and I liked PC World’s review of the lawsuit and they had a lively discussion on NPR’s Forum this morning with an attorney from the EFF (who threw one hell of a great birthday party earlier this week).

How should businesses participate in the process and respond to negative comments online?

I’m in the camp that says the lawsuit does chiropractor Steven Biegel far more harm than good (no matter what the outcome). Everyone would be better off to handle these issues conversationally than legally.

I like the suggestion ‘from Sharemarketing’: Don’t sue your way out of a bad review on Yelp:

Suing is the exact wrong thing to do. Why not go onto Yelp and respond. Say something like this:

“I respect the opinion of Mr. Norberg, a client of mine from date to date. But I think his characterization of me is wrong. I’m honest and hard working, and I’ll work hard to solve the issue you have. Also, my rates are public and agreed upon before treatement. I’m not sure what specific disagreement Mr. Norberg had with me, but I wish he would have talked to me directly instead of using Yelp. Call me anytime, night or day and I’ll happily explain how my treatment works, and I’ll let you know the rates.”

UPDATE 2:36pm 9-Jan-09 Blackie texted to tell me that the case settled to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. (The issues raised, however, remain for all of us as we move forward online!) Elinor Mills at CNet provides great coverage of the settlement.

5 thoughts on “Suing over negative Yelp reviews (and a better response)

  1. Yelp is responsible because they continually remove positive reviews and keep the bad ones. Especially, if they are calling you weekly for money. I've had 10 positive reviews removed but one negative review stays up no matter what. They even double listed the one negative review and had it count towards the total stars. I am all for open speech but they are manipulating the reviews and affecting businesses. I did a screen shot of my listing to prove they are double listing. By the way, the positive reviews started dropping like flies when they started to call for money.

  2. Yelp is responsible because they continually remove positive reviews and keep the bad ones. Especially, if they are calling you weekly for money. I've had 10 positive reviews removed but one negative review stays up no matter what. They even double listed the one negative review and had it count towards the total stars. I am all for open speech but they are manipulating the reviews and affecting businesses. I did a screen shot of my listing to prove they are double listing. By the way, the positive reviews started dropping like flies when they started to call for money.

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