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January 29, 2014

You Have the Right to Express Your Opinion Online

Because of the First Amendment, it is rare that we hear about consumers being sued for exercising their right to free speech -- even with nearly 50 million reviews contributed to-date. That's probably why there's been a fair amount of media attention surrounding a couple of recent cases in Virginia. But despite this press hype, it’s important to keep in mind that the First Amendment guarantees the rights of consumers to express their opinion about a business and honestly describe their experience.

These strong protections are why these suits are unlikely, especially when a reviewer has thoughtfully shared their views (Yelp provides guidance on how to do this in our Content Guidelines). We find the most useful reviews include a rich narrative, a wealth of detail and perhaps a helpful tip for others who are looking to spend their hard-earned money at that local business.

As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, litigation is not a good substitute for customer service. Businesses that try to sue their customers into silence rarely prevail, end up wasting their own time and money and usually bring additional, unwanted attention to the original criticism (a phenomenon known as the Streisand effect). Many states (though, unfortunately not Virginia) have laws designed to further protect consumers from being intimidated or silenced by these types of lawsuits. These Anti-SLAPP laws allow consumers to quickly end meritless lawsuits and require the business to pay the consumer's legal fees when the business loses.

The bottom line: reviewers who share their experiences help their fellow consumers as well as good businesses and provide the marketplace with valuable information, so we will continue to fight for the protection of free speech for all internet users. We know the reason an average of 117 million monthly unique visitors turn to Yelp is because consumers trust the content they are reading and find it useful in helping them make a spending decision.