While perusing Yelp when you’re thinking of going out somewhere, do you ever look at the reviews and think to yourself, “Man, that can’t possibly be true”? If you did, you weren’t alone. New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman, perhaps after a romantic evening was ruined by a place with a 5-star review, delved into the world of Yelp reviews and found they were rife with pay-to-play fraud. In response, he’s busted a number of businesses that pay for good reviews. Well, there goes another freelance writing opportunity for you.
Schneiderman’s office reached a $350,000 settlement with businesses scattered across the state who, looking to increase their business, paid for positive reviews from either freelancers or from “reputation enhancement” firms. Schneiderman pointed out that people give a lot of credence to reviews they find online, to the point where he considers it even worse than normal false advertising.
But look at it another way: isn’t the point of Yelp to disrupt the normal review process held hostage by egghead reviewers in their ivory towers? And then isn’t paying freelance writers to talk about the great time they had at Jack’s Good Time Family Trough-style Eatery or wherever just disrupting the disrupters? Who’s to say the attorney general isn’t strangling an innovative new business idea in its crib?
If anything, the biggest scandal in all of this is that these places were only paying $1 per fake review, and getting the reviews from Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe. Don’t they realize there’s a whole army of starving freelancers in their backyard who have top-notch English skills and a lack of scruples (caused by the starving) that would allow them to write fake reviews that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for forgeries? Once again, the failure of companies to buy American bites them in the ass.