How to Identify Anonymous Posters on Yelp
Founded in July 2004, Yelp has become the largest and arguably most popular review-based website. According to data released on September 30 2014, Yelp is home to approximately 67 million reviews. Not only are countless reviews being published each day by “Yelpers,” but they are also being widely read before people decide to dine at a restaurant, shop at a store, attend an entertainment venue, or make a similar decision. Add in the fact that Yelp has a score of 94 on Moz.com’s 100-point “Domain Authority” scale, meaning Yelp listings will typically rank among a business’s top few search engine results. Thus, given the popularity of Yelp reviews and their high rankings in search results, businesses can suffer substantial harm if they are victims of false and defamatory reviews.
Although Yelp reviews can only be published by registered users of the website, reviewers are not verified as legitimate customers and registrants may provide a fake name (opening the door for fake reviews). Therefore, when a business is the subject of a disparaging review, pursuing potential legal claims generally requires issuing a legal subpoena to Yelp in order to unmask an anonymous poster’s identity. This whitepaper offers a detailed explanation of how to go about issuing a subpoena to Yelp for identifying an unknown poster and what to request, as well as a discussion of two alternative strategies.
By following the steps and recommendations discussed in this white paper, a business has a favorable chance of obtaining the desired information about an anonymous Yelp reviewer. The good news is that the desired solution for a harmed business is often simply removing the review from Yelp, and Yelp does allow for the removal of reviews. First, the author of the review can edit or remove any review, which is a possibility even without determining his or her true identity. Second, even when Yelp objects to a subpoena, it is frequently willing to remove a harmful review if the requesting party can demonstrate that the review violated Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines, for example. A business, citing these provisions, can contact Yelp and often can convince Yelp’s counsel that the harmful reviews should be removed from the website. In short, follow our recommendations for identifying anonymous Yelp posters, but know that a harmful review can potentially be removed from the website even without disclosing the identity of a poster.