Yelp Inc. is suing a boutique bankruptcy law firm, McMillan Law Group, for allegedly “astroturfing.” Astroturfing is when statements are given on the internet, which appear to be from an independent, credible source but only because the source’s financial connection is withheld. The term is derived from the synthetic carpeting that is designed to look like natural grass, AstroTurf.
According to the Yelp, Inc. v. McMillan Law Group Inc. complaint, a number of employees from the law firm were using their personal accounts to give the firm five out of five stars and making statements, such as, “Exceeded expectations” and “would recommend for a quick, efficient and pain-free bankruptcy experience.” The complaint further alleges that the law firm created Yelp profiles for the purpose of leaving glowing reviews.
The McMillan Law Group contends that Yelp’s lawsuit against them is simply retaliation for the law firm’s small claims filing on February 13, 2013 against Yelp. The McMillan Law Group asserted that its contract with Yelp was void due to fraud in inducement to advertise and duress, and it further alleged that the website failed to provide promised services. A court commissioner awarded McMillan Law Group $2,700 plus $95 in cost, as a refund for advertising.
Only time will tell if there is any truth to the allegations against McMillan Law Group for unfair business practices, but it serves as a warning to all businesses. Do not have employees post fake reviews for your business as you may find yourself defending a lawsuit for astroturfing!