The Supreme Court won’t hear a case about whether online review site Yelp must take down negative or false reviews posted by users, handing a victory to Yelp and preserving for now legal protections granted to online platforms against liability for third-party content they carry.
The move by the nation’s top court leaves in place a California Supreme Court decision in Hassell v. Yelp, which ruled that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects Yelp from liability for negative or false reviews posted on its platform. The complaint was originally brought in 2016 by Dawn Hassell, an attorney who wanted Yelp to take down what she thought were negative and false reviews by a former client. Yelp argued, with the support of groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU, that it was protected by Section 230. Lower courts agreed with Hassell, but California’s top court ruled for Yelp. The case was later brought to the Supreme Court by the law firm of Charles Harder, an attorney for President Donald Trump (among others).
The long term future of Section 230 is in doubt as some Republican lawmakers push to repeal it. Already it has been weakened: Under an exception recently enacted, companies are now liable if they knowingly help or promote online sex trafficking via third-party content. For tech companies lobbying to protect the law, the end of the Yelp court case will be welcome.