Image courtesy of Emergency Dentist USA
If you’ve ever used Yelp to write a review of a business, you probably didn’t expect to get slapped with a lawsuit and potential criminal charges as a result. But that’s actually exactly what happened to a Texas mother after she posted a negative Yelp review of a local dentist.
When user “Jen B.” had a bad experience with this dentist’s office, she wrote a review about it on Yelp as thousands of internet-savvy consumers do each day. She was surprised, then, when she received a letter from the dentist’s lawyer demanding that the review be taken down.
A Bad Review Isn’t Defamation
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a business has attempted to silence an unhappy consumer with the threat of legal action. But instead of removing her Yelp review, Jen B. reached out to Pope Hat, a popular legal blog.
One of Pope Hat’s authors recruited a Texas-based lawyer to help Jen B. by writing a letter to the dentist’s legal team, successfully defusing the situation.
From Pope Hat:
“Texas used to have a criminal libel law, but it seems to have been repealed as of 1974. I do not find a Texas statute criminalizing ‘internet business defamation and libel.'”
In case you were wondering, those last five words were included verbatim in the letter sent to Jen B by her former dentist’s attorney.
Clearly, this was a blatant attempt at bullying a dissatisfied customer into silence; it’s easy to imagine that this dentist and his lawyer assumed she’d simply take down her post before seeking legal advice.
Anti-SLAPP Laws Protect Your Consumer Voice
The dentist’s response to Jen B’s review was in poor taste, but it was also against the law.
The dentist’s legal team violated what’s known as an Anti-SLAPP law, a state-level legislation that makes it illegal for businesses to try and bully consumers into silence. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — in other words, it’s a lawsuit specifically designed to get you to shut up.)
The Internet exists, in part, to give consumers a place where they can voice their opinion and share their experience with the general public.
This includes everything from blog posts to Yelp reviews, and no business has any place bullying its patrons with legal and/or criminal action just because they don’t like what you have to say.
Unfortunately, not every consumer knows about Anti-SLAPP laws, so many users allow themselves to be silenced rather than face potential legal fees. Most people don’t realize that claims of legal action over like a Yelp review are completely bogus, if not downright illegal.
Know Your Rights, Know the Law
You are always allowed to voice your opinion about a business establishment on the Internet, and businesses can’t threaten you or take legal action against their critics. Especially if those critics are simply stating a fact.
It’s nice to see that this case turned out the way that it did, with Jen B seeking and getting the truth that she deserved. If you ever find yourself in a situation, know that you don’t ever have to let yourself be bullied into silence. You’ve always got a place to express your opinion as a consumer.