Giving Yourself An Online Review: Yelp v. Law Firm

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

The timing of this case is almost prescient, as New York State recently passed a law that categorizes fake laudatory reviews as false advertising.

Yelp Sued Firm Over High Praise

This Yelp v. Business defamation fracas began when someone left a poor review on a law firm’s (that we’ll call *McDuck* — but not real name) Yelp page.

After the lone, less-than-flattering comment had appeared, Yelp staffers noticed a flood of A+ praise on McDuck’s profile. Suspicion led to an internal Yelp investigation, which resulted in a lawsuit. The charges? Yelp sued the firm 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 ring”, wherein participants agree to give each other positive reviews despite never using 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.”

What isn’t being highlighted, though, is that McDuck’s and Yelp have tangled before. Several years ago, McDuck won $2,700 from Yelp. The firm had initiated a legal action against the online review platform because language in Yelp’s vendor contract; McDuck  felt Yelp extorted businesses for good reviews.

In the end, and 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 overriding an arbitration clause.)

Bottom Line: Is Giving Yourself An Online Review False Advertising?

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

Clean Up Your Testimonial/Review Act

If you’ve bought, bartered, or self-produced bogus testimonials for your business, service or product, it’s time to start cleaning up the mess. Because remember: Giving yourself an 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 an online review or another online review legal situation? Get in touch with Aaron Kelly.

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