It’s one thing if your steak was undercooked. It's another when you are ranting on Yelp with the intention of completely damaging the restaurant, having never even tasted its food.
After becoming famous for kicking out White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia has been met support for its tactics in the form of Yelp reviews, as well as in the form of hate reviews that have nothing to do with the quality of its food.
“Is the restaurant operated by Bigots against Republicans?” one user asked.
Another posted, “Refusing service to people who are misbehaving because you disagree politically is the height of being un-American.”
Another: "Rude staff. Dirty establishment. Would not at all recommend. How do people like this stay in business?”
Donald Trump piled on (on Twitter, of course), writing the restaurant has “filthy canopies, doors, and windows” and “badly need[ing] a paint job,” with absolutely no indication that he’d ever even had a meal there.
“The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” he wrote.
Yelp has since posted an “Active Cleanup Alert” which pops up as soon as you enter the Red Hen’s page. It began on Saturday and is still in the process of wiping out comments that are offensive or determined to be from people who have never visited the establishment.
The warning states: “This business recently made waves in the news, which often means that people come to this page to post their views on the news. While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business. As a result, your posts to this page may be removed as part of our cleanup process beginning Saturday, June 23, 2018, but you should feel free to post your thoughts about the recent media coverage for this business on Yelp Talk at any time.”
The site continues to get flooded with fake reviews for the restaurant, likely from Trump supporters who have never stepped foot inside. Here is how Yelp deals with the flood of fakes:
According to BizJournals, in 2013 state legislators in New York fined 19 fake review companies $350,000 each, and Aaron Schur, senior litigation council for Yelp said, “it still struggles to identify and stamp out all the phonies.”
“Unfortunately there is also an increase in the number of people out there looking to game the system. It is something that Yelp has been aware of since day one and the reason why we developed sophisticated review quality software — to protect both consumers and business owners from potentially unreliable reviews,” he explained.
The site uses automated filtering software that identifies fake reviews or users, and relies on tipsters to alert them to suspicious reviews. The company also conducts undercover sting operations, takes legal action in the hopes of preventing further fraud, and calls in law enforcement when they see someone is being harassed.
“Our tools have been successful in limiting the impact of false advertising online,” Schur said.
If caught creating a fake review (or ones like the Red Hen is currently getting) Yelp does not factor them into the business’s overall star rating.
“We may also display public Consumer Alerts on the listings of businesses that we catch posting or purchasing fake reviews. We also work with law enforcement, who may choose to bring actions against offenders and Yelp may bring actions itself,” Schur said. “Education as to the possible negative consequences of engaging in such misleading practices may help dissuade some from even trying.”
Yelp spokesperson Kathleen Liu sums it up for The Feast, saying, in general, reviews that violate the terms of service are subject for removal if they are not based on a firsthand experience, they contain hate speech, or they contain a clear conflict of interest.
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