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The Virginia Court of Appeals recently ruled that Yelp must reveal the identities of seven anonymous individuals who wrote negative reviews about a carpet-cleaning business.  Hadeed Carpet Cleaning claimed it could not match seven posts on the business review site to actual customers.  The business sued the anonymous authors of the seven critical reviews (as “John Doe” defendants) and subpoenaed Yelp to learn the identities of the anonymous reviewers.  Yelp refused to comply with the subpoena, leading the trial court to hold it in contempt.  Yelp appealed the contempt ruling, and the court of appeals ruled (in a split decision) that Yelp could not conceal the anonymous reviewers’ identities.  The court reasoned that freedom of speech—including the freedom to speak with anonymity—is not absolute, especially when the challenged reviews concerned false statements of fact.   Yelp has stated that it intends to appeal the case to the Virginia Supreme Court.

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