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Landmark Ruling Could Impact Online Reviews, Says Reputation Advocate
Judge orders sections of review on Yelp and Angie's List removed says the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, Steven Wyer.
By: PR Newswire
Dec. 11, 2012 06:15 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 11, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- After a December 4, 2012 hearing at Virginia's Fairfax County Courthouse, consumer advocates are decrying the controversial ruling by a Virginia judge as a potential violation of free speech. The judge in the case left the door open for individuals to be sued for posting negative reviews online, reports Steven Wyer of Reputation Advocate, an online reputation management company located in Nashville, Tennessee.
According to a report on NBC 10 in Philadelphia, Jane Perez had posted negative reviews on Angie's List and Yelp about a contractor, Christopher Dietz, who had recently done work in her home and was sued by Dietz for three quarters of a million dollars, saying her reviews had damaged his business. In a recent interview, Steven Wyer expressed concern about the potential implications of such a ruling. If someone could be successfully sued for writing a negative review, argues the Managing Director of Reputation Advocate, what would stop owners of blogs and other online content from being sued?
According to Reputation Advocate, the judge required Perez to remove the content in question from Angie's List and Yelp and banned her from posting it elsewhere on the Internet. The monetary award requested in the lawsuit was $750,000, the Washington Post reported.
While Steven Wyer says Reputation Advocate specializes in protecting the reputations of clients impacted by reviews on sites like Angie's List and Yelp, he disagrees with censoring public review sites. Freedom of speech should be protected, Wyer insists, and what starts with online review sites could expand to other areas of the Internet, as well.
In this particular case, the plaintiff claimed the review had damaged his business. The judge ruled that an online review that damages a business is unacceptable if those comments are decided libel. As Reputation Advocate's Wyer describes, this ruling has sent shockwaves throughout the professional online community.
According to BusinessWeek, 70 percent of consumers now consult an online review before making a purchase. While this has been great for consumers, Reputation Advocate reports that businesses commonly find reviews to be inaccurate and damaging. When legal cases have arisen over the years, Reputation Advocate has found that the courts rule in favor of the defendant, stating that online reviews are freedom of speech and opinion. As Wyer points out, both freedom of expression and freedom of opinion are protected under the First Amendment.
From the perspective of Reputation Advocate, the words of our founding fathers are more relevant today than ever:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Steven Wyer says that Internet content is one of the most basic channels for free speech. Reputation Advocate has found that some free speech advocates see the numerous lawsuits as attempts to stifle citizens' rights to free speech. Since review sites offer consumers a way to get the word out about a bad (or good) experience, many are expressing deep concern about that right being taken away.
However, from a company owner's perspective, Reputation Advocate has found that he or she has no choice but to fight back against false online reviews that are drastically cutting into the ability to do business. Wyer concludes, "It will be interesting to see if this ruling is overturned on appeal. Either way, this case could be the beginning of a long and difficult battle attempting to balance both the basic rights of free speech while allowing for a venue to confront malicious online slander. This battle has just begun."
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