"Diana Z.," a former tenant of a building owned by Beal Properties in Chicago, did not have a pleasant experience while living in their building. She was charged late fees on her rent, even though she had documentation saying she paid it on time, and was treated rudely by their customer service representative. Flustered and without much recourse, she did what many frustrated consumers do, and vented through a scathing review on Yelp. She wrote:
my interaction with Beal has made me a better person in the following ways:
I actually enjoy talking with my HR department.
I look forward to moving to a worse neighborhood….
Contracting herpes doesn't seem as horrible.
Her landlord, of course, did not take kindly, and decided to do things the American way and sue her for defamation.
Before a court can proceed with a defamation case against an unknown defendant, however, it has to establish if the case has any merit before subpoenaing Yelp and revealing the identity of the reviewer.
If "Diana Z." was in fact lying about her experience turned out to be besides the point. As the court decided (as it has favorably concluded for this esteemed site), her review was really an opinion and not a fact — just like most Internet content. Writing for Forbes, Eric Goldman observes that "courts increasingly are treating online statements as opinions, not facts. Indeed, we've seen numerous cases indicating that readers don't interpret online content literally."
The entire Beal Properties Yelp page has reviews along similar lines to the one from "Diana Z.", who is and shall forever remain anonymous, a herpes-braving crusader for the Internet's right to talk shit.
We are all Diana Z.!