Yelping at Yelp: Can Internet Business Bullying be Prevented?

Update 7/21/16: Apologies in advance if you visited our site recently and noticed that it was down.  Someone hacked into our site, maliciously targeted this article and redirected it to a broken link (which removed it from the Google search).

Our experience with fake reviews has indicated that the Yelper, once publicly confronted by the owner, is significantly more likely to remove their review.  We begin our response with “This is a fake review written by an elite Yelper who gets paid to bully small business owners who refuse to pay Yelp $300/mo for “review management and advertising”.  This response is what was shown in the Google search under Epicurus 101 (another algorithmic modification).  It’s interesting that our website hack also specifically correlated with the change in the Yelp details in the Google search.

It’s unfortunate that the perception is sometimes vastly different than the reality, but as Winston Churchill once said, “Do you have enemies?  Good. That means you stood up for something sometime in your life.”

[The original article is posted below for your enjoyment]

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Bullying is never justified, especially internet business bullying.  This violence damages the livelihood of hard working individuals who oftentimes risk everything to become entrepreneurs.  New and struggling businesses are especially at risk.  It doesn’t take much to affect the reputation of a business.  Moving forward, the purpose of this article is to: (a) shine a spotlight onto Yelp’s internet business bullying and bring awareness to both business owners and consumers, (b) explain why the basic human need for competition is the root of internet business bullying and (c) suggest how business owners can protect themselves against internet business bullying.  So, let’s begin.

 

Facts:

  • Yelp regularly contacts small business owners, sometimes on a monthly basis.  They’re often asked to pay $300/mo for “Yelp review management and advertising”.  When business owners decline to pay Yelp, negative reviews spontaneously appear from Yelpers who never visited the business.
  • High-profile Yelpers interview business owners under false pretenses.  Yelpers pretended to be writers for other organizations and use aliases to hide their identities.  Libelous reviews appear under Yelp listings using photos taken during these interviews.  Reviews get worse after contacting Yelp about concerns (sometimes within 24 hours).  Good reviews are also deleted and hidden from view.  Check out “other reviews that are not currently recommended” at the bottom of Yelp pages.
  • After small business owners contact Yelp about unethical business practices, negative reviews will appear (sometimes the next day).  Reviews accuse business owners of attempted theft and false advertising.  These reviews also make personal attacks against a business owner’s integrity and character.  Yelp will also group libelous reviews together using “algorithms” and relocates them at the top of the business owner’s Yelp page.
  • Yelp’s policy states that reviewer profiles are deleted if Yelpers attempt to conceal their identity.   After contacting Yelp’s corporate office, Yelp refuses to delete Yelpers whose identities are false.
  • If a review disagrees with negative feedback from elite yelpers and dishonest reviewers, they’ll hide it under “other reviews that are not currently recommended” at the bottom of the Yelp page.  However, the reviewer has no idea that their review was removed.  The perception is that the review is visible to everyone.  But the reality is that the review only is visible to the reviewer (and only while the user is logged into their account).  When the reviewer logs off of Yelp, clears their browser history, and visits the same Yelp page as a non-logged in user, their review is hidden from view!
  • Yelp claims to be a “directory” and doesn’t allow business owners to delete their business profiles.  Does a directory contain personal information about a business?  Why do other social media websites allow people to delete their accounts (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but Yelp refuses?  Note that Yelp reviews can only be commented on by selecting “useful”, “funny” or “cool”.  Unlike Youtube, reviews can only be commented on by business owners.  This “he said, she said” scenario creates a win lose scenario that unquestionably favors the reviewer.
  • Yelp is currently under investigation for extorting small business owners.
  • http://www.worldwealthnetwork.com/yelp-credibility-at-risk/
  • Yelp’s Yelp Page: http://www.yelp.com/biz/yelp-san-francisco

 

Why would someone purposely spend a vast amount of energy writing a libelous review about a new business?  Competition.  It’s not only a basic human need, but it drives business owners to protect their share of the market.  Here’s a typical scenario:

Business A produces X.  When business B starts producing X, business A feels threatened, especially if business B is producing a better quality X for a lower price.  Business A is now put into an unavoidable competitive scenario that tests their business ethics.  Will business A modify their version of X to compete with business B?  Sometimes yes, and sometimes no, but oftentimes it’s too much trouble.  Will business A attempt to join forces with business B?  Again, it’s possible but unlikely.  Business A would rather not share the market with business B.  So, what can business A do to protect their piece of the pie?  This is where it gets shady.  Business A tries to convince consumers that business B and their version of X is inferior.  Although dishonest, it requires the least amount of resources…and it works.  The more business A feels threatened, the more business A will attempt to convince consumers that business B is somehow second-rate.  Business A will attack any perceived or actual weakness.  They’ll observe, collect data and eventually make their move.

So, can internet business bullying be prevented?  The short answer is no, but there are ways that business owners can protect themselves before, during and after being confronted with challenges.  First and most importantly, be careful who you share our business with on the internet.  Unfortunately, it appears that Yelp isn’t a good business partner.  Do your research before exposing your business on any internet site.

Second, bullies respond to strength and will generally back off when challenged.  An important rule of thumb in business is this: matters of small concern should be treated seriously, while matters of great concern should be treated lightly.  This means that small problems, if not dealt with, become bigger problems.  Big problems involve big choices.  Speaking up and acting quickly (when necessary and appropriate) is important and prevents future problems.

This leads to the third point which is that new business owners entering the market need to be strong-willed.  This means that owners need to be highly motivated, thick-skinned, fearless, passionate, able to build relationships and quickly discern who’s trying to help (and who’s not).  Trust your instincts; it’s a jungle out there.

Fourth, and most importantly, businesses aren’t perfect and neither are the individuals who run them.  Understand that businesses are naturally in competition and not everyone’s going to play fair.  If possible, try to build relationships with potential adversaries and anticipate the anticipations of others.

 

“Injustice is not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which is associated with the apprehension of being discovered by those appointed to punish such actions.” -Epicurus

 

Dr. John Hofmann