Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

Yelp makes some people ululate.

It's a torrent of reviews written by people you don't know, people who might not have the same taste as you, and people who might have no reason at all to write nasty things about a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant or an organic hardware store.

Which doesn't mean that all the businesses on Yelp are pristine examples of commerce.

Some businesses address Yelp's existence with humor. For example, Botto Bistro in Richmond, California, begged everyone to write it one-star reviews.

This was in retaliation to the whole concept of Yelp and the fact that a business has no choice whether it's on the site or not. The restaurant also isn't fond of Yelp's alleged sales tactics.

There are other approaches, however.

Some businesses decide they don't like a negative review and threaten to sue the person who wrote it -- even if it might be accurate.

This can be quite powerful.

Some governments, corporations, and billionaires find this works quite well for them.

No one wants to be sued. It's expensive and stressful.

And the person who wrote the review might not be relaxed and wealthy.

Now Yelp itself has realized that it should alert users to such techniques.

Yelp has started to post warnings on the pages of businesses that it believes might be involved in intimidation by litigation.

The warning notices read: "This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers."

In a blog post, Yelp's Vince Sollitto explained: "Consumers don't necessarily know that these threats are sometimes empty or meritless (and often both!), so the threat of legal action is enough to scare them into silence. We don't think that's right."

Translation: "We don't want you to be afraid of telling other people about overdone pork and hotel bed stains of questionable provenance."

It's curious to see Yelp posing as the defender of the people, given accusations in the past that the company has allegedly extorted money from businesses by threatening to have their positive reviews disappear.

Such legal actions have failed, but they've left an air of suspicion.

There's something uplifting (and, for some, ironic), then, for Yelp to start indicating which businesses might be using the law to choke honest, unhappy reviews.

Sollitto specifically named a pet-sitting business in Texas, a moving company in Florida, and a New York dentist.

Of course, there's an alternative way of going through life, one that doesn't involve Yelp, TripAdvisor, and all the sites that are so full of people's heartfelt (or not) and possibly useless reviews.

It requires your deciding that life is an adventure and you'll let it take you in many directions, some of which may be disappointing.

But who has the courage to risk that? Who has the chutzpah to just make their own choices and live by those decisions?

It's always better to have someone else to blame, isn't it?

Published on: Jul 31, 2016
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