Cleanup Alert: Yelp’s Terms of Service

Exploding Reviews

In mid-September, New York City and surrounding cities were shocked to discover multiple explosive devices. One detonated on September 17th in Manhattan’s Chelsea-area neighborhood, injuring 29 people. The following Monday, police identified Ahmad Khan Rahami as a primary person of interest in the Saturday night explosion. Another explosion in Seaside Park in New Jersey that morning, and a failed bomb attack the following day. Police then released Rahami’s information to the public via mobile alerts.

First American Fried Chicken

Rahami was born in Afghanistan, but is a U.S. citizen and resident of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Rahami’s family owns a restaurant First American Fried Chicken. The restaurant, which was open 24 hours, was often the site for noisy crowds late at night. The City Council eventually ordered the restaurant to close by 10:00 p.m. after several complaints from neighbors. The family, however, ignored the ordinance and continued to serve customers late into the night. At one point, one of Rahami’s brothers allegedly assaulted a police officer at the restaurant when the officer attempted to enforce the ordinance.

In 2011, as a result of the ordinance, the family sued the mayor, City Council, and local police department. The family was claiming racial and ethnic discrimination. In response, Mayor Christian Bollwage stated that the ordinance was the result of complaints and had nothing to do with the family’s ethnic background. When Rahami’s connection to the restaurant was discovered, Yelp users spammed the restaurant’s review page with less than positive reviews. Consequently, the restaurant’s rate has dropped. Prior to September 19th, reviews of the restaurant were generally positive.

Section 5(A) of Yelp’s Terms of Service states:

[A user] may expose [herself] to liability, for example, Your Content contains material that is false, intentionally misleading, or defamatory . . . contains material that is unlawful, including illegal hate speech . . . violates or advocates the violation of any law or regulation.

Under Yelp’s Content Guidelines, with regard to inappropriate content, it states “[c]olorful language and imagery is fine, but there’s no need for threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech, and other displays of bigotry.”

What is a Terms of Services Agreement?

A terms of service agreement, also known as a Terms of Conditions agreement or a Terms of Use agreement, is a legally binding set of regulations that website users must follow in order to use your service. The agreement sets forth guidelines for acceptable behavior while using your website or app, but can also serve as a disclaimer regarding your use of website user’s data.

Terms of service agreements are incredibly important because they define the relationship between your website and your end users. Terms of service agreements also prohibit specific conduct, such as threats or hate speech. Without a terms of service agreement, these activities may be allowed. With an agreement, the website owner has a cause of action for breach of contract if these actions are undertaken.

Cleanup Alert

While some users were “joking” about the restaurant being a “blast,” other comments were could arguably be interpreted as threats. In accordance with Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines, Yelp activated its “Active Cleanup Alert”. In part, the alert states:

This business recently made waves in the news, which often that people come to this page to their views on the news. While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business. As a result, your posts to this page may be removed as part of our clean up process. . . .

After Yelp’s “clean up process,” most of the negative and false-positive comments have been removed.

This article was originally posted on RevisionLegal.com