ESSAY: How I learned to hate Yelp

I’ve long fostered a love-hate relationship with Yelp. I love that the website can help me find supermarkets, restaurants and hiking spots when I’m out of town. I love that it gives the public a voice and supposedly helps small businesses. I’ve even used Yelp to find story sources.

But nowadays, I’m leaning more toward hating it.

As a recent SN&R cover story (“The Yelp factor” by Nick Miller, March 20) pointed out, there are plenty of bad things about Yelp: It’s created a sense of entitlement among Yelp “elites”; many reviews are written by business owners’ friends; and some of the reviews aren’t even about the businesses, but about the reviewers’ personal hang-ups. Then there are all the stories about Yelp salespeople allegedly extorting businesses to purchase ads to erase libelous and hateful reviews.

In April, a business owner offered to pay for positive Yelp reviews on Sacramento’s Craigslist site. I’ve seen postings like this before, but none as explicitly detailed: “Looking for yelp users. Need a few reviews for a new business. Compensated via PayPal $15. Quick and easy. Please send me the link to your account. No response without a link. Thank you !”

I hate these solicitations for a number of reasons. For starters, it floods Yelp with even more fake reviews. Plus, even though this business might suck, its Yelp page will probably average four or five stars. Additionally, it creates an environment that benefits big businesses, not small ones—the more money you have, the more positive reviews you can buy.

I’ll admit, hating on Yelp feels like a weird position to take. After all, I’ve never written a Yelp review, and I get paid by SN&R to critique food. This puts me in an entitled position myself: Millions of Americans are food insecure, but I get to eat and judge delicious grub for thousands of readers. It’s a situation I’ve yet to reconcile in my own mind.

Yet being a paid critic is the pulpit to which many Yelpers aspire. Perhaps that’s why I hate foodies just as much as their Yelp reviews. They—and their favorite websites: Yelp, Eater and BuzzFeed—ruin food and food journalism by exalting Guy Fieri-esque palates and Portland-hipster snobbery. No stars.

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