Virginia Court Orders Revealing Yelp Reviewers
A Virginia appeals court ordered Yelp to reveal the identity of a reviewer of an Alexandria carpet cleaner where the business presented evidence to cast doubt that the reviewer was ever a customer.
Generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is aperson’s opinion about a business that they patronized. See Tharpe, 285 Va. at 481, 737 S.E.2dat 893. But this general protection relies upon an underlying assumption of fact: that the -reviewer was a customer of the specific company and he posted his review based on his personal experience with the business. If this underlying assumption of fact proves false, in that the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead, the review is based on a false statement of fact—that the reviewer is writing his review based on personal experience. And “‘there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.’” Id.(quoting Gertz, 418 U.S. at 340).
Yelp plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Coincidentally, this development occurred as another closely watched Yelp case – in which a contractor is seeking $750K for a one-star review goes to trial in Fairfax County, VA.
Ninth Circuit Cox Ruling, Gives Blogger a Pass on Defamation By Dissing It
In Obsidian Finance Group v Cox, blogger Crystal Cox appealed a defamation verdict against her after accusing the plaintiff of engaging in “illegal activity,” including “corruption,” “fraud,” “deceit on the government,” “money laundering,” “defamation,” “harassment,” “tax crimes,” “fraud against the government,” having paid off “media” and “politicians” and hiring a hit man to kill the defendant. In what has been hailed as a victory for bloggers, the Ninth Circuit reversed noting that the blogs extreme language and wild accusations immunize it from liability since it “dispel[s] any reasonable expectation that the statements assert facts.” The Berkman Center, however, does not see this as a victory for bloggers.
The Ninth Circuit’s analysis also takes into account the use of frequent hyperbole and “almost ‘stream of consciousness’-like sentences,” which in context might indicate a figurative rather than literal use of language. Nevertheless, it is still a challenge to see how accusations of “money laundering” or “tax crimes” could be figurative statements. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that the statements that the Ninth Circuit held to be opinion were in fact actionable. However, respecting speech means evaluating it on its merits, instead of assuming that it has none.
Revenge Porn Busts: Hunter Moore/IsAnyoneUp and Kevin Bollaert/YouGotPosted Indicted
Hunter Moore, operator of IsAnyoneUp and once called the “most hated man on the Internet” has been indicted by a Los Angeles federal grand jury for being part of hacking scheme in which
to obtain more photos to populate the site, Moore allegedly instructed Evens to gain unauthorized access to – in other words, to hack into – victims’ e-mail accounts. Moore sent payments to Evens in exchange for nude photos obtained unlawfully from the victims’ accounts. Moore then posted the illegally obtained photos on his website, without the victims’ consent. The indictment alleges that Evens hacked into email accounts belonging to hundreds of victims.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris indicted Kevin Bollaert, operator of yougotposted and a parallel reputation management site changemyreputation.com that facilitated the posting of more than 10,000 sexually explicit photos and extorted victims for as much as $350 each to remove the illicit content. California Penal Code sections 530.5 and 653m (b) make it illegal to willfully obtain someone’s personal identifying information, including name, age and address, for any unlawful purpose, including with the intent to annoy or harass. The link between harasses and reputation management companies may becoming a developing trend as this issue.
Courtney Love was sued by her former lawyer over a tweet in which she said she was “fucking devestated [sic] that [her laywer] “was bought off @FairNewsSpears.”
Love had tried to make the legal argument that Twitter was in essence defamatory proof since the statements made there were inherently opinion but this was rejected by the judge.
The jury was asked to decide the factual issue of whether Love knew the message was false or doubted the truth of it and the jury answered “no” – making Love “the girl with the most cake.”
Amanda Hess’s Important “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet“
Writing for Pacific Standard, Amanda Hess cites research that feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7. Hess details hers and other prominent women’s death threats via the internet and how they rarely are taking seriously. Her stalker has been with threatening her for four years – even with a protective order. Hess explains:
WHEN AUTHORITIES TREAT THE Internet as a fantasyland, it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats. Criminal threat laws largely require that victims feel tangible, immediate, and sustained fear. . . . .If police don’t know whether the harasser lives next door or out in Nebraska, it’s easier for them to categorize the threat as non-immediate. When they treat a threat as a boyish hoax, the implication is that the threat ceases to be a criminal offense.
University of Maryland Law Professor Danielle Citron has argued that the lack of serious attention to cyber harassment is a form of gender discrimination.