A high-profile lawyer whose clients have included wrestler Hulk Hogan as well as President Trump wants the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to hear a case against Yelp over the presence of what his client claims are defamatory reviews.
Lawyer Charles Harder is petitioning the high court to take up the case, which came about after Harder’s client Dawn Hassell (who’s also an attorney) sued a former client of hers. That former client had left reportedly “negative and false” reviews of Hassell’s law firm on Yelp. Hassell asked Yelp to take those reviews down, but Yelp declined and cited its First Amendment rights as one reason why. So Hassell took Yelp to court in California, and lower courts sided with her until the case reached the California Supreme Court, which took Yelp’s side.
Hassell claims Yelp’s refusal to take down what she describes as false reviews hurt small businesses in general. Yelp, meanwhile, sees a free speech issue at the heart of the case. Enter Harder, who of course famously represented Hogan in a successful defamation suit against Gawker that was bankrolled by Peter Thiel and helped drive Gawker into bankruptcy.
CNBC notes: “The country’s highest court would have to agree to hear the case and rule to overturn a lower court’s decision, but the outcome could have widely felt implications on websites that host user-generated content like Facebook, Google and Twitter. The case calls into question a legal provision called Section 230, which protects publishers of user material from liability related to those posts. Under Section 230, Facebook can’t be held responsible for threats a single user makes against another on its platform, for example.
“But the case Harder is petitioning to the Supreme Court — centering on a Yelp review that Harder claims to be defamatory — could muddy those publisher protections.”
Yelp isn’t commenting on the lawsuit but cites this company blog post in lieu of making a statement. Among other things, that post notes that the negative reviews of Hassell’s firm were outliers. Her firm has always been a five-star business on Yelp, it goes on to point out, and also argues that Hassell’s legal actions help prove the so-called Streisand effect, whereby calling attention to negative critics serves to give them more attention than they might otherwise have received.