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Protecting Free Speech: Why Yelp is Marking Businesses That Sue Their Customers

Since Yelp was founded in 2004, we’ve made it our business to help protect consumer free speech. Consumers have the right to share their opinions about their experiences with businesses, but there will always be a small handful of businesses who mistakenly think it’s a good idea to threaten consumers who exercise their free speech rights. As a result, we started a new type of Consumer Alert to warn people about businesses that issue questionable legal threats.

Legal Alert

Consumers don’t necessarily know that these threats are sometimes empty or meritless (and often both!), so the threat of legal action is enough to scare them into silence. We don’t think that’s right.

For example, earlier this year, a Texas couple was sued for posting an honest but critical review of Prestigious Pets, a pet-sitting service in Dallas. As a result, Yelp issued a Consumer Alert like the one above to serve as a warning for consumers. We’ve also placed Consumer Alerts on the business pages of Superior Moving & Storage in Pompano Beach, FL and Nima Dayani, DDS in New York City.

The federal government has begun taking more steps to protect consumer speech through two important pieces of legislation. The “Right to Yelp Bill,” also known as the Consumer Review Fairness Act, prohibits inclusion of gag clauses in consumer form contracts, and the SPEAK FREE Act protects consumers from lawsuits intended to silence their freedom of speech. Both are important and will work together to protect your First Amendment right to express your opinions online.

Yelp’s Consumer Protection Initiative began in 2012 with the implementation of our Consumer Alerts program, designed to protect people from attempts to mislead them on Yelp. Yelp provides a platform for two-way communication that allows businesses to resolve issues with their customers through free messaging and response tools, instead of resorting to legal action.