Why Online Review Sites Should Not Allow Anonymous Reviews
The U.S. Constitution, written more than 200 years before the birth of the Internet, is at the heart of a battle over the practice of allowing online reviews to be posted anonymously. The right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the First Amendment, includes the right to anonymous expression, which provides “a shield from the tyranny of the majority” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A case still making its way through the court system involves a carpet cleaning service seeking to force Yelp to reveal the identity of several anonymous reviewers. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning believes that a number of reviews were not written by actual customers, and has successfully argued its case at the lower court levels; Yelp has appealed the matter to the Virginia Supreme Court.
The law does not protect expression that is false and defamatory in nature, and therein lies the problem: how can a business respond to or seek legal relief against questionable online claims if the author is anonymous? Anonymous online reviews are simply a bad idea for a number of reasons.
Anonymous Reviews Pose a Credibility Problem for Everyone
- Unsigned reviews are felt to be less credible than reviews that include the reviewer’s name, and city of residence.
- The review site itself may lose credibility if readers come to believe that it allows fake reviews to be posted.
- The business being reviewed may lose public confidence if readers equate anonymous reviews with purchased or unfairly influenced reviews.
Anonymous Reviews Can Encourage False or Exaggerated Claims
- There is no accountability for the anonymous reviewer. An unscrupulous reviewer can write anything about any business, secure in the knowledge that his or her comments will never be questioned or challenged.
- Even a basically legitimate review can be tainted with exaggerated claims that will never have to be answered for.
Anonymous Reviews Can be Unfair to the Business Owner
- While some businesses just don’t care about their reputation, many businesses make every effort to address complaints and criticisms that they hear about. An anonymous review makes it all but impossible for the business to reach out and resolve the situation.
- An anonymous review is hard to even respond to, as the business owner probably will not have all of the facts needed to be able to make an informed response.
Anonymous Reviews May Lead to Bigger Problems
- Anonymous reviews can lead to a costly legal fight for the business being reviewed, the reviewer, and the review site.
- Businesses with good reviews may see their overall online reputation suffer due to the effects of anonymous reviews.
Which Review Sites Allow Anonymous Reviews
The majority of review sites offer varying degrees of anonymity for reviewers. Some of the more popular sites allowing reviews to be posted anonymously include:
- TripAdvisor (requires real name to create an account)
- WeddingWire (requires real name to create an account)
- YahooLocal (requires real name to create an account)
Should these destinations continue to allow users to post anonymous business reviews or force them to use their real first and last name or at least their first name and initial similar to Yelp?