There may be no such thing as Anonymous Reviews

January 21, 2014  |  What Sells

In an article from the San Francisco Chronicle, it outlines a case in which a Virginia court required Yelp to hand over the names of anonymous reviewers (“Court tells Yelp it must reveal some critics’ identities”). Yelp is a self-described online urban city guide that “helps people find cool places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, based on the informed opinions of a vibrant and active community of locals in the know.”

Interestingly on the Yelp website it says in the FAQs section, “What if I had a bad experience? Can I say something negative?” with the answer, “We like to hear about the good, the bad, and everything in between. Be sure to include all the relevant facts and details, and don’t embellish your story for effect. We are big believers in freedom of speech, but beware the legal consequences if you post false information.” It also links to the wikipedia entry for the term defamation.

Online sellers have a unique perspective on the issue of anonymous posts and reviews. On the one hand, if they go to a discussion board or review site to criticize a service or marketplace they use, they expect to be able to post their opinions without fear of retribution by a company on which their business may still depend.

On the other hand, they may not be happy about customers who write negative reviews about them as an online merchant. How many sellers believe eBay should allow buyers to leave Detailed Seller Ratings anonymously?

The Chronicle quotes Matt Zimmerman, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“The prospect of having to hire a lawyer to preserve one’s online anonymity could silence legitimate criticism, said Zimmerman, who adds that the Internet commentary landscape would change greatly if that standard were widely applied. “People will feel a bit cautious about criticizing companies, especially those that are well funded and have a history of litigation,” he said.”

Originally posted here.