"A very angry ex-patient has posted terrible things about me on
a website called Yelp.com. I know itís doing damage because
several people have called me to commiserate--including colleagues,
current patients, and ex-patients. One of them told me heíd
recommended me to a friend, but the friend decided against seeing me
because of the bad review. I tried Googling my name, and this bad
review is the first thing that comes up in the search results--even
before my own website. Itís been there for months now, and never
seems to go away. Is there any remedy for this?"
Not exactly. There are strategies that clinicians are using to
soften the blow--and we outline them later in this report. But most
therapists who run into this situation want to know how they can
kill the bad review altogether. The truth is, they usually canít.
starters, the website in question, Yelp.com, doesnít take
responsibility for whatís posted there--and legally speaking, they
are not required to do so. Yelp hasnít responded to our queries
or, reportedly, to queries from this therapistís attorney. But
another attorney we know, Glennon Karr in Columbus, OH, has been in
touch with them. Unfortunately, he says, "They more or less
have complete immunity."
had a client with the same problem, and I wrote Yelp a letter asking
them to remove the negative review--or to tell us who had placed it
so we could consider responding with a lawsuit. They wrote back
saying no, and citing the case law. Theyíre right--the law backs
Yelp response is in the box on page 2. Essentially, it says they wonít
remove a bad review unless a judge orders them to do so. Nor will
they disclose details about who posted a review unless they get a
subpoena--and even then, they add, theyíre probably going to fight
before giving in.
unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. "Iíve heard
this exact story from several clients," says Christopher
Zopatti, a Los Angeles malpractice attorney who works frequently
with mental health professionals. In fact, he tells us, heís known
therapists whoíve suffered worse. "This guy has it easy...At
least his ex-patient isnít posting on multiple sites, or starting
his own website devoted to defaming the practitioner.
presently dealing with a patient who is baiting my client to sue
them," Zapotti goes on. "That way, they can conduct
discovery, and then post private information regarding my client on
lawsuit isnít a good idea, he concludes. "It could cost you
upwards of $100,000 in legal fees to sue them, and most of the time,
these people donít have any money anyway."
else can you do? In theory, a practitioner could fight fire with
fire by posting a response to a patientís bad review. But that
leads to ethical questions you may not want to deal with. David
Ballard, assistant executive director for marketing and business
development at the American Psychological Association, points out
that an explicit response from a therapist would be acknowledging
the therapeutic relationship.
the patient has used a pseudonym or posted anonymously, the
therapist might have some room to respond but Ballard still
discourages it. "You could end up stepping into
quicksand." Additionally, he says, all the professional ethics
codes in this field prohibit solicitation of positive reviews from
patients or former patients.
members are reporting problems like these "occasionally,"
he adds, "and we expect that weíll be hearing a lot more
Keely Kolmes, a San Francisco therapist and active web marketer, is the one person weíve spoken to who offers any hope. First of all, she says, a bad review may not be such a bad thing--if itís not the only opinion on offer. ďThereís some research to suggest that people donít really believe good reviews if there arenít one or two negative ones alongside.Ē
more, she tells us, there are some proactive steps you can take to
make things better. Below, Kolmes and Ballard offer 5 tips for
dealing with bad web reviews:
"ownership" of your Yelp page. The site wonít remove
bad reviews, but it does give you the opportunity to post info about
yourself--to create a professional profile with contact info,
a mission statement, etc. You can also include language explaining
why you canít respond directly to bad reviews. You donít have to
pay anything to do that, and your info goes right on top, before any
reviews. "I put a statement on my page cautioning people about
the problems of leaving reviews," Kolmes says.
using a client satisfaction survey in your practice, and post
the data on your Yelp page, or other site where youíve been
reviewed. "Itís giving people another way of assessing
you--rather than relying on the reviews," Kolmes tells us.
colleagues and other professionals, with whom you have no
confidential relationship, to post positive comments about your
NOT ask prospective patients to sign a statement agreeing not to
post reviews about you. Some physician practices are taking this
step, but Ballard tells us it wonít fly. "Itís not
enforceable," he says. A better and subtler approach, he feels,
is to add language to your intake form "encouraging patients to
discuss disagreements in therapy."
closest thing to a real solution, Ballard and Kolmes agree, is
to find a way to "bury" bad reviews when someone Googles
your name. "If you have no website or social media presence,
that bad review is always going to come up prominently,"
Ballard says. But if thereís enough content about you--articles
youíve written, blog entries, Facebook fan pages, etc.--that bad
review can get pushed down in the search results. Most people never
look past the first 10 results to a search.
are a variety of books on that subject, including Me and My
Web Shadow: How to Manage Your Reputation Online by Anthony
Mayfield, and Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your
Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier, by Michael Fertik.
Used copies of those are selling for $10 or less on Amazon. And if
youíre willing to spend more--a lot more--there are several online
services that promise to do the whole job for you. Reputation
Defender, www.reputation.com, is one--a Google search will turn up
1) David Ballard, APA, Washington, DC, (202)336-5887; 2) Glennon
Kerr, Columbus, OH, (614)848-3100, www.karrlaw.com; 3) Keeley Kolmes,
San Francisco, CA, (415)501-9098, www.drkkolmes.com (Kolmes wrote an
article about her online odyssey in The New York Times back in
March--see it here: tinyurl.com/pf0411e); 4) Christopher Zopatti,
Los Angeles, CA, (949)261-2872, www.ctsclaw.com.
Yelp responds to a therapistís attorney
attorney Glennon Karr had a client last year with the same problem
outlined by our reader on page 1. When he complained to the company,
they flatly refused to remove a pair of bad reviews, or to tell him
who had posted them. The complete Yelp response, with names removed,
June 25, 2010
We are in receipt of your letter dated June 17 regarding the reviews
of [therapistís name] on Yelp.com. We have examined the reviews by
[patient A] and [patient B] and after careful evaluation, we have
left them intact. If a review appears to reflect the personal
opinion and experiences of the reviewer while adhering to our review
guidelines (http://www.yelp.com/faq#great_review), it is our policy
to allow the reviewer to stand behind his or her review.
While we share your concern about the possibility of defamatory
reviews on our site, we have no way of assessing the validity of
your claims versus those of the reviewers. Congress acknowledged
this quandary by passing legislation that provides statutory
immunity to online service providers such as Yelp. See 47 U.S.C.
ß230. The case law is legion and unanimous in support of online
service providers because of concerns that they would otherwise be
forced to remove third party posts every time someone raised issue
with their contents. See, e.g., Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129
F.2d 327 (4th Cir. 1997). That said, we will promptly remove the
reviews in question upon receipt of a judicial determination that
the contents are defamatory, and will take appropriate action with
respect to the users responsible for the reviews.
Regarding your request for user information, please note we do not
freely disclose such information. We will respond to a properly
issued subpoena, but reserve the right to object as necessary given
Yelp.com is a kind of do-it-yourself Consumer Reportsóone of many
on the web. Customers of restaurants, shoe stores, plumbers,
psychotherapists, etc., go online to report their experiences, both
good and bad.
These reviews are extensive, covering businesses and professionals
throughout the U.S., plus a handful of cities in Canada and in