A few months ago I ate at a restaurant and wrote a review. It wasn’t a bad review – I believe I either gave the restaurant three or four stars out of five – but it wasn’t a triumphant, best-gyro-ever review, either.
A few days later I received an email from Yelp saying that the review had been removed “because it lacks a firsthand customer experience.” Now, considering I ate there, wrote about my first hand experience, and even posted a picture on yelp of the Indian statue at the front door, I’m not sure how first hand one needs to get.
That’s not a big deal, actually. When a company is that big, it’s understandable that mistakes will happen. In fact, I was pleased that they’re being diligent about making sure that the reviews are as authentic as possible. The problem was that there is nobody to talk to, no way to communicate, and no chance of correcting the mistake.
I emailed several times. I Tweeted at them several times. I searched the site for a way to correct such errors. Nothing.
One might think, “what’s the big deal?”
It’s just an online review, right? Well, yes and no. It’s important from the perspective that a voice of the public trying to express an opinion about a local business for their peers to see and use for guidance was removed and given zero chance of making things right. My review was not important. The fact that this can happen is scary.
The worst case scenario is that reviews become untrustworthy and they no longer bring the value that they promise to the users. Yelp is striving to fix that. The other end of the spectrum – the ability to correct improper filters – is a huge mess. I’ve seen clients find this to be challenging. I’ve had friends who have found this to be challenging.
It’s their site and they can do whatever they want with it. However, when legitimate reviews are tossed out and given no chance of being recovered, it’s no longer simply a mistake. It’s blatant censorship. Some might say that the word is too harsh for such a situation, but there’s no other way to put it. If there was a way to challenge the filter and prove that the review was real, then it would be nothing to worry about at all. It’s a countermeasure to falsified reviews and that’s definitely necessary. Unfortunately, the fact that they have no method to correct improper deletions IS censorship.
Until they figure out how to correct this by allowing users to contest their filtering, the service cannot be trusted. It is simply incapable of painting an accurate picture as long as this is a problem.