Recently, I had a client that experienced a viral online crisis because of an insensitive remark made by the president of the company. Long story short—under stress, physically exhausted, and no business being on Facebook. Nonetheless, he ignorantly made a remark that resulted in a viral firestorm of haters and cyber bullies—mostly directed to the company Facebook page from Reddit, Upworthy, and other unfiltered sites. In addition, they descended on Yelp in droves posting reviews—all of whom had never bought the product.

Yelp blocked some of the reviews, filtered many of them that obviously made no mention of a product or service, but left up many of the bogus reviews dragging the company’s product rating into the basement. After several emails citing clear evidence why the reviews were bogus, Yelp refused to budge and left all the negative reviews on the page.  In light of the recent brouhaha about Yelp punishing establishments for asking for good reviews, I am starting to wonder what Yelp’s priorities are as an online review site. Frankly, I don’t think they can be trusted. Here’s three reasons why.

  1. Yelp is talking out of both sides of their mouth. You can’t claim to be cracking down on businesses asking for bogus positive reviews without cracking down on reviewers who are out to ruin a business’ listing because they don’t like something they did or said. I was under the impressions that Yelp hosted reviews about products and services, not company ethics.  Yelp’s content guidelines say, You may expose yourself to liability if, for example, Your Content contains material that is false, intentionally misleading, or defamatory; violates any third-party right, including any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, moral right, privacy right, right of publicity, or any other intellectual property or proprietary right; contains material that is unlawful, including illegal hate speech or pornography; exploits or otherwise harms minors; or violates or advocates the violation of any law or regulation.” Expose to liability maybe, but not any punishment from Yelp. My question becomes, why isn’t there any action taken to remove content that is false when it is proven to be false?

 2. Yelp arbitrarily removes reviews to the filtered portion of a business site without any explanation or opportunity to refute. After our viral event subsided in late October, we finally had a real customer post a positive review. The name of the company and the reviewer are blocked out.  It is shown below.

 

I have no idea why this review was filtered. On top of that,the one below is still left up:

 

This review was posted right at the peak of the viral online crisis. This reviewer mentioned customer service—my client has no retail outlets, which the people from Reddit would not know. Also, my client only distributes in two western states: Montana and Wyoming. The reviewer was from California. All of which I pointed out to Yelp in my email. 

3. Yelp’s review criteria are skewed to punish small businesses and cut slack to bogus negative reviewers. One thing I learned in this experience: Yelp is not a friend of business. There is no process to challenge Yelp’s actions and protect legitimate businesses short of hiring a lawyer. In three emails, I got one form letter response and the other two were ignored. Clearly, Yelp is not in business to honestly review businesses. It’s really a shame because Yelp could have a reputation as a legitimate place for reviews, but there clearly is not a system in place of checks and balances that protects businesses from both bogus negative and positive reviews.