Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman (AP Images)
According to a new investigative documentary currently being crowd-funded, it’s time to shine a light on the Yelp mafia. Yes, mafia.
Many tourists rely on Yelp reviews when traveling as a quick, easy way to find the best spots. But can you really trust them? This question has been raised before, since the courts ruled last year that Yelp has the right to filter and charge for reviews. Now it’s a hot topic again, thanks to Billion Dollar Bully, “a documentary on marketing giant Yelp’s $3.6 billion racket against small business owners,” according Prost Productions’ Kickstarter page.
Judging by the trailer, this film will pull no punches. Not only are the reviews filtered, says the footage, but the company is shaking down the little guys.
The restaurateurs and experts interviewed throw around words like “extortion” and accuse the company of being a new-fangled La Cosa Nostra (a.k.a., the Sicilian Mafia).
“Every one of the clients had been threatened with harm if they didn’t pay money,” says an attorney.
“It is a racket…. They really forcibly make you pay for their services or you get more negative reviews and it negatively affects your business,” accuses a business owner.
These tactics were “invented in Sicily around the 1930s,” says a restaurateur, who reports missing positive reviews and increased negative reviews after he declined to advertise with Yelp.
The trailer also questions Yelp users about whether they are even aware of Yelp’s filtering of reviews — which most of them are not. The company uses an algorithm to hide reviews deemed “suspicious,” but many small business owners claim the filter is just a strong arm tactic.
Yelp ain’t buying it. According to a statement given to BusinessInsider.com, Yelp says: “The director has a conflict of interest, as she has a history of trying to mislead consumers on Yelp. There is no merit to the claims they appear to highlight, which have been repeatedly dismissed by courts of law, investigated by government regulators, including the FTC, and disproven by academic study.” (Ironically, as WebProNews.com points out, Yelp actually has no problem accusing other businesses of "shady” tactics.)
So far, the Kickstarter campaign has raised nearly $18,000 toward its $60,000 goal. And Wall Street is taking notice: Yesterday, Yelp shares were down as much as four percent.
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