Should the Bars Get Help from Yelp?

When it comes to social media, many bar disciplinary bodies have expressed reservations about testimonials.  Some states permit lawyers to post testimonials on their websites only with prominent disclaimers, while others impose a duty on lawyers to monitor third-party sites like Avvo or LinkedIn where testimonials might crop up.

Though testimonials can potentially be deceptive or fraudulent, the constitutionally compliant antidote to client speech isn’t suppression but rather, more narrowly tailored means that weed out the fraud while allowing bonafide commentary to stand. Thus, as I’ve previously written, algorithms that identify “false positives” are one potential way to improve the accuracy and reliability of review sites. But seems that Yelp  has an even more intriguing solution:

a combination of sting operation and e-shaming designed to humiliate those companies that purchase positive reviews.  As the New York Times reports:

Like every Web site that depends on consumer critiques, Yelp has a problem with companies trying to manipulate their results. So it set up a sting operation to catch them. The first eight businesses — including a moving company, two repair shops and a concern that organizes treasure hunts — will find themselves exposed on Thursday.

For the next three months, their Yelp profile pages will feature a “consumer alert” that says: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.”

Potential customers will see the incriminating e-mails trying to hire a reviewer.

Of course, here in the legal profession, we’ve got our own posse of href=””>Greenfield and Tannebaum who do their share of outing. But is e-shaming something that bar regulators should institutionalize on a broader scale to curb lawyers who buy fraudulent reviews, or pressure clients to provide favorable feedback? I’m not comfortable with empowering regulators that way (plus, there are due process concerns). But on the other hand, isn’t sunlight always the best disinfectant for ne’er do wells?


  1. Gene on October 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Good thing Google is coming down hard on fake reviews. Just this year they slapped a bunch of PI lawyers for using fake reviews. Last I checked, some of the firms with 30+ reviews (more than a dentist), are now down to 1-5.

  2. Seaner1 on October 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I think fake reviews are good, and would encourage them, because it will cause people to rightly reject the whole review system as a scam.  I once had a really bad experience at a restaurant and posted it on a review on yelp, but yelp relegated it to the “second page”; apparently its “algorithm” had wrongly tagged my review as a possible fake — probably because it was too negative and they thought it came from a competitor.  I contacted yelp and had them take my review off — I’d rather not have it on there at all then wrongly placed on the second page.    The point is that the whole review and “ratings” system is pointless, and certainly not reliable, and it is simply another way that people try to game the system for their own business or practice.  Does anyone out there actually believe that they can rely on reviews posted on sites like trip advisor? And even if you could verify a review — say, a positive one, what about all of the people who had a bad experience but didn’t post? The empirical significance is exactly zero.   Plus, this article as well as yelp’s approach don’t appreciate the pressure these small businesses are under to make a buck.  The old guy from Italy who has 50 years experience making fantastic pizza can’t just rely on his “real” reputation anymore to get customers to his pizzeria; no, he has to bow down to the technological nerds at yelp.  And then they target him for daring to believe he could purchase a review, when the whole system is phony anyway.  So I say let people bombard the system with fake reviews and ratings — it will expose the whole thing for the lie that it is.   P.S. Don’t the businesses who were targeted by yelp have a claim that the yelp people engaged in a fraud by soliciting fake reviews? It seems like it to me…

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