Yelp May Have Just Saved The Internet — But The Court ruling In Its Favor Is A Dangerous Muddle

By Michael Hiltzik
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) What are the rights and responsibilities of online review sites like (Yelp) to police what gets posted on its website? A Ca. Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.

Los Angeles Times

It’s being held as a landmark ruling for free speech on the internet, and a ringing endorsement of what’s been called “the most important law on the internet.”

But a California Supreme Court decision protecting the refusal of the online review site Yelp to remove several postings deemed to have defamed a San Francisco lawyer may have left too many questions about the rights and responsibilities of online platforms unresolved.

That’s the view of Eric Goldman, an expert on technology and marketing law at Santa Clara University who has followed the case closely during the two years it has meandered through state courts.

He observes that the seven justices split 3-1-3 on the various issues raised by the parties in a lawsuit known as Hassell vs. Bird.

That’s a problem, considering that the central issue are the duties of an online platform, Yelp, in this instance, to police what gets posted on its website.

“This case has gotten the attention of everyone who’s anyone in the user-generated content space,” Goldman told me in 2016. Among the friend-of-the-court notices filed at one point or another was a joint letter from Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter and another from 31 online and print news organizations, including The Times.
Such platforms “are instrumental in how modern society communicates,” Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter said in their letter, adding that they “receive thousands of requests every day seeking review or removal of content … Requesters seek to block speech because they disagree with or do not like it or because they believe it is threatening, obscene, fraudulent or in the present case, defamatory.”

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