There is no doubt that negative online reviews can hurt a business. Many businesses struggle with how to address negative reviews – Do you respond to the review? Do you threaten a defamation lawsuit? Do you just ignore it and hope more favorable reviews minimize the damage?
Even if they do not truly believe they can win a defamation lawsuit, some businesses choose to engage in Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) as a way of silencing their critics. In a SLAPP, the business hopes to use the legal process to silence the critic and chill others from publicly sharing similar views by threatening enormous damages and causing the critic to incur extensive legal costs.
Some states have enacted Anti-SLAPP laws to discourage these types of frivolous lawsuits. Anti-SLAPP laws typically work by providing for an immediate halt to discovery (thus cutting off the main driver of legal expenses) and payment of the defendant’s attorney’s fees by plaintiff if defendant can show that the basis for the lawsuit is speech that is protected under the statute. Wisconsin has no Anti-SLAPP law.
Because there are still several states that have no Anti-SLAPP laws, in June of 2015, a group of 34 businesses, including Yelp, sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee asking them to push forward the Speak Free Act. The Speak Free Act is a proposed federal Anti-SLAPP law.