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Friday, Jan. 9, 2009 at 9:38 am

Yelp Reviewer Lands in Court

By Bryan Eisenberg
January 9th, 2009

A San Francisco chiropractor, Steven Biegel, has sued Christopher Norberg over negative reviews he published on Yelp, the Web site that rates businesses, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In his review, Norberg criticized Biegel’s billing practices and said the chiropractor was being dishonest with insurance companies.

When the chiropractor complained about the review, Norberg replaced it with a new entry a few weeks later that said:

“I think that he is trying to scare me into removing a negative post (that might explain why he has only positive ones). I believe that he has been harassing me into shutting up, and I feel as a consumer I have a voice and that I can use it on forums made for sharing it, especially when I feel that the experience was unsatisfactory.”

Biegel said both reviews were malicious and in February sued Norberg for libel and invasion of privacy. If the case isn’t settled, it will go to trial in March in San Francisco Superior Court.

Have you ever had a bad experience that you wanted to tell people about? Should a negative review be considered libel? Should consumers have the right to express themselves freely?

As a business, should customers have the right to post negative reviews as long as they are true? As a business, what would you do if someone posted something negative about you?

You can read more about the case, don’t forget to check out some of the comments there as well, and then let us know how you feel about this in the comments below.

Add Your Comments

Comments (31)

  1. Personally, I would attempt to resolve the issue with the business owner first and give them a chance to address any issues.

    However, I feel that every customer has the right to post negative reviews in any public forum if they are telling the truth about an experience they had.

  2. I completely agree with Kyle’s second point regarding you should as a consumer have the right to post negative reviews (if your conscience is clear).

    From the main story page I think this statement is of particular relevance:

    “When people try to pull down unflattering material, it has the absolute opposite effect” of what they intend, he said. “It’s very difficult to silence speakers on the Internet – it’s a culture of people who don’t like those kinds of attempts.”

    The facts are that there are some people more vocal and willing to defend their views than others online, and it looks like Mr Biegel has just so happened to find one of these more vocal people in Mr Norberg.

    In response to one of your questions Bryan, if a negative review is considered libel then we’re defeating what is one of the strengths of online, which is about allowing your customers and users to tell other about their experiences, good or bad.

  3. [...] comments about the value of user reviews on the UK version of Yelp, I have read with much interest a post by Bryan Eisenberg referring to the US version of Yelp, where one of their users faces a lawsuit for leaving negative [...]

  4. I firmly believe, in an active review community, that the authentic business experience will ring true. Today’s online consumers are savvy enough to know that one negative consumer review does not mean a business offers a bad experience. People understand there are people who simply cannot say nice things or really just want attention and a negative review gives them that. It starts to get much more relevant when there are multiple negative or multiple positive reviews. The business owners best response here would have been to reach out to this individual and ask what could be done differently and then make changes accordingly and then left it alone. Let the review community do its job. If the negative review is unfounded the other consumers would make it right by posting the true experience.

  5. I’m always wary of a site that has no negative reviews. Allowing customers to post negative reviews gives credibility to the whole process.

    As long as there is nothing inappropriate in the review, I see no problem with them.

  6. Isn’t Yelp a review site where you can post any negative experience you have with a business? I think Yelp should step up as well and take a side here.

  7. If Biegel wins this one, it will turn the Internet Review business upside down…

  8. The doctor should never have approached the client to change his review. That will only backfire.

    The best way to handle it would have been to go to Yelp and post a response, clearly outlining the facts about the interaction with the client and how the misunderstanding could/would be handled.

    From there you can just let people make up their own minds. People aren’t stupid, they can tell which person is telling the truth. If the doctor handled it in this way it would have been very positive exposure for him.

    With the lawsuit, he’s clearly on a no win path.

  9. I value what I read on Yelp as a consumer and expect that I sometimes will hear about a bad experience that a consumer has with a business.

    The consumer has an obligation to stick to the facts of the experience and to have made reasonable attempts to work it out with the business owners. Likewise the business owner in this case is unlikely to find the lawsuit to be a winning strategy. He would have been better off to respond with a reasoned refutation of the untruths in the review and an offer to make it right –to the extent possible — for the client.

    The legal action will make it a much larger story that it would otherwise have been and give the complaint against him much wider airing than it otherwise would have gotten.

    As someone who has told the unpleasant truth about a few local businesses on Yelp, I will certainly watch this case.

  10. The chiropractor reminds me of McDonalds in the UK with the he McLibel Trial that resulted in so much negative publicity. My view is this is a lose lose situation for both parties.

  11. 1. It’s best to turn these people into evangelists for your brand rather than bashers. When you can, make every attempt to communicate with them to clear up any miscommunication and offer a detailed explanation and compensation if possible.

    On more than one instance I have seen people re-post an explanation and their renewed satisfaction with the experience after contacting them in an informative and empathetic tone.

    2. Might be worth a thought to make them sign a waiver agreeing not to post in exchange for services, where applicable. At least then you have that out if it makes it to court.

    3. The customer is always right. Now more than ever you need to be treating your customers right. Someone at PubCon said it best, “These problems are easier to prevent than they are to fix.”

    Tighten up departmental communications; make sure the sales reps understand your online message and visa versa. Be consistent in your communications and services. In the rare occasion someone blasts you just to be malicious; it’s that much easier to expose them as the only person that seems to have a problem with your services. Counter it with content regarding your attempts to satisfy the customer, a link to the $2k testimonials you have that say otherwise and a link to your BBB profile that states “Company made attempt to settle but customer declined to respond.”

  12. To me, online comments should be treated no differently then those printed/spoken elsewhere. Consumers certainly have a right to share a negative experience with others, but (especially) when making the kind of accusations Norberg is said to have made (insurance fraud) they had better have some proof to back it up.

  13. Christopher has the right to write anything he wants as long as he’s not slandering the chiropractor. If Chris is able to prove it in court then the chiropractor will immediately raise a red flag for business ethics.

    I have been convinced to do business based on reviews before. Not only did I run into many problems with him, I found out he had inside connections to delete any reviews that would damage his business. Like Nate says, I am now very careful with sites that has no negative reviews.

  14. I’ll be interested to see how the courts rule this one (not saying I have much faith in them either).

    But don’t you think that the Chiropractor should have taken a different approach in the first place? How about contacting the individual and resolving the issue with some positive work.

    Obviously if he’s done something wrong, you can’t go down that route other than refunding his bill and hoping he keeps his mouth shut.

    In the end Steven Biegel better hope he gets enough from the settlement to start a new career!

  15. Hi this is ram:i like this site,I’m always wary of a site that has no negative reviews. Allowing customers to post negative reviews gives credibility to the whole process.



  16. [...] Grokdotcom’s blog post and reader comments on the case at: Yelp Reviewer Lands in Court [...]

  17. Wow, litigious people suck! Why must everything end up in court for some people? If the guy pissed off his customer so bad, lesson learned, don’t tick off customers! Every single unhappy customer is sure to share their experiences, while only about 1 in 10 happy customers will. That means there has to be over 10 happy customers for every unhappy one to keep the reviews even even!

  18. The consumer has an obligation to stick to the facts of the experience and to have made reasonable attempts to work it out with the business owners.

  19. well ,good article .chi hair iron in this season also make amazing by fashionable
    people.make style with it .nice.

  20. XN thank you for your sharing.

  21. I just heard on the John Tesh Radio program how a student posted some negative comments about her teacher and principal online and a judge ruled it was OK to speak your mind.
    When the 1st ammendment rule – freedom of speech was written the Internet was a distant dream and for some with negative reviews a distant nightmare.

    I use it all the time to see if complaints are out there about someone I am thinking of doing business with. If you are clean, there should be nothing to worry about!

  22. It’s absolutely disgusting that someone can post damaging comments about a business or organization and hide behind their keyboard in complete anonymity, leaving no recourse to the business. How many of these negative posts are legit? How many are disgruntled employees (active or former)? How many are competitors???
    Without accountability of any kind, ratings boards are mostly slanderous libel and I cannot wait for the day when they start ending up in court, along with the people that have posted on them and are required to answer for what they have published.

    Prove posting legitimacy and provide a clear, simple method for a business rebuttal, then at least there is a shred of accountability.

  23. A 30 second websearch reveals much controversy regarding this topic.

    One of many:

  24. I believe that the users have the right to make their opinion but obviously respecting everyone.

  25. us libel and I cannot wait for the day when they start ending up in court, along with the pe

  26. The facts are that there are some people more vocal and willing to defend their views than others online, and it looks like Mr Biegel has just so happened to find one of these more vocal people in Mr Norberg.

  27. Great lens! I think more and more Chiropractics are learning the value of Chiropractics Marketing and
    web video marketing. There are still plenty of others out there who are just discovering how much this type of marketing can help both new and established practices. Great job and thanks for all of the valuable content!

  28. Быстро и качественно – проект коттеджа, загородного дома

  29. I think you should be able to voice your opinion on something even though you are “hiding behind a keyboard”.

    So, who won?

  30. I’m sure that many only business reviews are fake. That’s part of the online marketing world and people do make a living posting all kinds of false positive information online. I believe that consumers are savvy enough to see for themselves when results are being manipulated. Posting a negative review about one of your peers or competitors may or may not be legal, but it sure doesn’t seem like a prudent idea as a business owner.

  31. Leave it to SF. SO NOW we’re going to fill courts (and costs) with review of reviews…

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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