Online review site Yelp is standing by its commitment to protect the anonymity of its reviewers, while taking strong measures to penalize business owners who try to game the system by buying fake reviews.
In one of the biggest Yelp-related stories this week, the popular online review site has gone to court to protect the anonymity of a Yelper who wrote a scathing review of a real estate firm in Texas.
Yelp protects anonymity of online reviewer
According to reports, Jeremy Wages, a realtor in Flower Mound, Texas, had requested the removal of a negative Yelp review posted (back in June 2013) by a user named “Lin L.” The review described the firm’s agent as “by far the worst deceitful and money greedy sales agent you would ever deal with… (the agent) failed to represent us as clients, never explained our contracts to us, and not once did he ever ask us what we wanted to keep or take in our home.”
Yelp decided not to delete the negative review, explaining to Wages that the review “appeared to reflect the user’s personal experience and opinions, consistent with Yelp’s Terms of Service and Content Guidelines.”
This was when the realtor issued a warning to Yelp and asked the site to reveal the identity of the review writer. Wages filed suit in a Texas court against Lin. L for defamation, civil conspiracy, and exemplary damages – along with a subpoena demanding identifying information and “all records and documents in (Yelp’s) possession pertaining to Lin L.”
“You can’t use the First Amendment as a shield to make false and defamatory statements about an individual,” said Wages’ attorney, Robert Wilson.
As a response, Yelp – together with Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for consumer advocacy group Public Citizen – appeared before the court to state that, until Wages can prove that the review is false, it will protect the anonymity of its user Lin L.
Reads Yelp’s opposition: “Because compelled identification trenches on the First Amendment right of anonymous speakers to remain anonymous, justification for infringing that right requires proof of a compelling interest, and beyond that, the restriction must be narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”
A judge is expected to make initial rulings next month. Stay tuned for updates!
Yelp shames scheming businesses with consumer alerts
Meanwhile, Yelp is also making a continued push to penalize businesses that are faking their reviews in hopes of boosting their online reputation (“astroturfing”).
Through its Consumer Alerts program, which launched in 2012, the site is fighting the fakers and warning consumers against patronizing businesses that, in one way or another, have attempted to manipulate the reviews on their Yelp page.
“Our team of detectives is on a mission to catch businesses which may be trying to mislead consumers. We place a clear warning on the front of the offending business’ Yelp page, and link to relevant evidence,” wrote Kayleigh Winslow, PR coordinator at Yelp. “This week, we’re releasing 85 new Consumer Alerts for businesses who were attempting to buy or offer rewards for positive reviews and some that had a large number of reviews submitted from the same Internet Protocol (IP) address (a hint that someone may be trying to artificially inflate their rating).”
For example: the message below is posted on the Yelp pages of offending business owners who have posted reviews from the same IP address:
“Although most of the millions of businesses listed on Yelp do play by the rules, and Yelp’s automated recommendation software is already in place to identify and weed out fake reviews, consumers have a right to know about the bad apples before deciding to spend money at their businesses,” added Winslow.
Here at ReviewTrackers, we recommend against giving yourself 5-star reviews as a review management tactic, simply because the cons far outweigh the pros. We also won’t suggest taking matters to court every time you receive a negative review. If you wish to boost your visibility and business reputation online (on Yelp and other major review sites), we suggest focusing your review management efforts on the following:
- Plant your flags and claim your business listing on review sites and local business directories.
- Add your business information and ensure that it’s correct, complete, and up-to-date.
- Actively monitor reviews on all major review sites.
- Respond to reviews professionally, promptly, and politely – without losing your cool.
- Post fresh content like company news, updates, special deals and promotions, photos, videos, new product and service menus, and more.
- Promote your presence on review sites by using tools like website widgets, E-mail signatures, awards and certificates, stickers, badges, and links.