Dangerous Ruling In Virginia Allows Cleaning Company To Identify Anonymous Yelp Critics
from the getting-it-wrong dept
Unfortunately, the Virginia state court of appeals has decided that it won't follow those rules, but rather will follow a Virginia state law that may be a bit out of date and (much worse) that it will interpret that law to have a very low bar, thus requiring Yelp to identify the commenters just because Hadeed Carpet Cleaning has "a good faith basis" to believe that the comments were defamatory. That's a very low bar, and allows for all sorts of mischief by those looking to unmask anonymous critics. There is a brief dissent in the case, in which one of the judges on the panel notes that, while he agrees that Virginia's law is the important one, he's troubled by the claim that Hadeed had a "good faith" basis, noting that the law requires "reasonable efforts... needed to advance the claim" but that in court Hadeed's lawyer simply said they really "don't know whether that person is a customer or not...." It would seem like "well, we just don't know" is not exactly a "good faith belief" that they were not a customer and that the comment is defamatory. Unfortunately, the majority of the court didn't seem to understand this point.
Yelp is apparently considering appealing the decision. But, at the very least, this may lead to the Supreme Court eventually having to weigh in on a better standard for protecting anonymous speech.