Smith’s Yelp critics were shut down after the immediate hit of activity on his page, which the company labeled “unusual activity notices,” a stepping stone for both activity and Yelp to filter into a flood. of reviews and choose which are spam and which are not. Noorie Malik, Yelp’s vice president of user operations, said Yelp has a “team of moderators” who investigate pages that get an unusual amount of traffic. “After seeing activity decrease or stop dramatically, we will clean up the page so that only first-hand consumer experiences are reflected,” he said in a statement.
It’s a practice that Yelp has had to employ more often over the course of the pandemic: Second Yelp 2020 trust and safety report, the company saw a 206% increase over 2019 levels in alerts of unusual activity. “Since January 2021, we have placed more than 15 unusual activity notices on business pages related to the company’s position on covid-19 vaccines,” Malik said.
Most of these cases have been since May, such as the gay bar CC Attles in Seattle, which had one Yelp alert then he made the bosses show the vaccination proof at the door. Earlier this month, Moe’s Winery in Chicago’s North River neighborhood was spammed after trying to isolate it. vaccinated clients not vaccinated those.
Spamming a company with reviews to a star is not a new tactic. In fact, perhaps the best known case is Colorado’s Masterpiece bakery, which won a 2018 Supreme Court battle for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, after which she was hit by reviews of a star. “People always write false reviews. People will always write false reviews, ”Liu says.
But he adds that today’s online public knows that platforms use algorithms to detect and signal problematic words, so bad actors can mask their complaints by blaming a poor restaurant service as a more typical negative review to ensure that classification remains – and counts.
That seems to have been the case with Knapp’s bar. His Yelp magazine included comments like “There was hair on my plate” or alleged cockroach warnings. “Really ridiculous, fantastic shit,” Knapp says. “If you look at the previous reviews, you immediately realize that this doesn’t make sense.”
Liu also says there’s a limit to how much Yelp can improve its spam detection, since natural language – or the way it speaks, reads and writes – “is very difficult to detect for computer systems.”
But Liu doesn’t think about putting a human being in charge of understanding which reviews are spam or won’t solve the problem. “Man can’t do that,” he says. “Some people might be right, some people might be wrong. I have fake reviews on my web page and I still don’t know if they are true or not.”
You may notice that I’ve only mentioned Yelp reviews so far, despite the fact that Google reviews – which appear in the business description box on the right side of the Google search results page in “reviews” – are of course more influential. That’s why Google’s review operations are, frankly, even more mysterious.
While the companies I spoke to said that Yelp worked with them to identify spam reviews, no one was lucky enough to contact the Google team. “You’d think Google would say, ‘Something’s gone wrong here,'” Knapp says. “It’s about IP addresses from overseas. It really undermines the review platform when things like that are allowed to happen.”