In Hayes Valley, a local San Francisco restaurant Bai Thong Thai is calling on neighbors and diners to "Stop the Bully" by boycotting Yelp, alleging the user reviews site is engaged in some dastardly extortion scheme for ad dollars.
A sign posted in Bai Thong Thai's window reads, "Stop the Bully! — Boycott Yelp" and claims diners have let the restaurant's owners know they have submitted positive reviews even though their Yelp page currently sits at a three-star average. "We asked Yelp," the sign reads, "we were told, 'Perhaps if you paid to do Yelp Ads we could help you with this.' "
The accusations aren't necessarily new, but the sign did inspire an editorial piece in the L.A. Times this weekend. In it, a Yelp spokeswoman defended any potentially questionable sales practices by deferring to the company's secret review filtering system designed to block fake reviews: "I don't know the exact script people use when they sell advertising," spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand told the L.A. Times, "but there's no amount of money anyone can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews."
While the algorithm may not be an outright extortion scheme, it does give more weight to frequent Yelpers, who are in turn encouraged to play up certain aspects of their reviews for the approval of other Yelpers in an insular ouroboros of local restaurant reviews. Earlier this year, a Freedom of Information Act request reveal over 700 complaints had been filed against the company, alleging that Yelp had offered better ratings or search placement in exchange for advertising.