Yelp Explains Why It’s Flagging “Questionable Legal Threats” In Reviews

A couple months ago, while writing an update to the ongoing saga of the Texas couple being sued for writing a negative Yelp review about their petsitter, we noticed that Yelp had flagged the petsitter’s page with an alert that this particular review was being challenged in court. Now the company is going a step further, flagging reviews that have led to “Questionable Legal Threats.”

“This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers,” reads the alert. “As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”


In a recent blog post, Yelp Sr. VP Vince Sollitto explains the rationale for the new 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,” he writes. “We don’t think that’s right.”

Sollitto notes that the new alert has been placed on the review involved in the petsitter case, which ballooned from a $6,800 demand for allegedly violating a dubiously legal non-disparagement clause to $1 million defamation lawsuit, along with two other Yelp pages — one for a New York City dentist and another for a Florida moving company.

These non-disparagement clauses — which try to penalize customers who write negative reviews, even if they are entirely accurate and truthful — have already been outlawed in California.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill in late 2015 that would make such clauses illegal on a nationwide basis, and a nearly identical bill was recently approved by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, meaning it should go before the full House later this year.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.