Giving Yourself A Great Online Review: Yelp v. Law Firm

picture of man's hand pressing top rating to accompany blog post about giving yourself a great online review
Is giving yourself a great online review allowed? Not really. In fact, Yelp sued a law firm for allegedly posting fake – yet glowing – reviews under its own entry.

The timing of this case is almost prescient, as New York State recently passed a ground-breaking law which categorizes faux-laudatory reviews – especially ones you and your employees write yourselves – as false advertising.

Yelp Sued Legal Practice Over High Praise

This Yelp v. Vendor defamation fracas began when someone left a poor review on a law firm’s — which we’ll call *McDuck* — Yelp page. After the lone, less-than-flattering comment appeared, Yelp staffers noticed a flood of A+ praise on McDuck’s profile. Suspicion led to an internal Yelp investigation, which led to the company suing the legal practice for breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations, and false advertising.

Word on the street is that Yelp believes McDuck is part of a “testimonial mafia ring” of sorts, wherein participating parties agree to give each other positive reviews despite having never actually used a given service or product. An “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” understanding – which, till now, has been a standard online marketing practice.

Why is Yelp Taking The Time To Sue A Law Firm For Defamation?

You may be wondering, “why is Yelp even bothering with this lawsuit!? Shouldn’t they worry about providing a better online experience instead of suing users?” In response to that question, the company’s line seems to be, “Bad reviews are bad for both Yelp and consumers.”

But what isn’t being widely highlighted is that this is not McDuck’s and Yelp’s first legal run-in. Several years ago, McDuck won $2,700 from Yelp. The law firm had initiated a legal action against the online review corporation over language in Yelp’s vendor contract; McDuck  felt Yelp was extorting businesses for good reviews. Though the firm ultimately won money from the consumer-venting pioneers, much to the chagrin of McDuck, the matter was forced into arbitration because of a clause in Yelp’s vendor agreement. (Click here to read more about the difficulty of getting an arbitration clause ignored when a legal matter arises.)

Bottom Line: If Giving Yourself A Great Online Review False Advertising?

This lawsuit comes at a time when lawmakers are cracking down on paid-for, fake, and defamatory reviews. As stated above, New York State recently passed a law stipulating that self-reviews of a business or product are akin to false advertising and therefore illegal.

Clean Up Your Testimonial/Review Act

If, in the past five years or so, you have bought, bartered, or self-produced bogus testimonials for your business, service or product, it’s time to start cleaning up the now-offending material. Because remember: Giving yourself a great online review violates Section 5 of the FTC Act; it constitutes unfair and deceptive marketing.

S0, delete the reviews you wrote and posted yourself. If you work with a marketing firm, get in touch and calmly discuss the new crop of fake testimonial standards.

Want to consult with an online marketing attorney about giving yourself a great online review or another online review legal situation? Get in touch with Aaron Kelly.

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