The Virgil Films May 21, 2019 DVD release of the documentary "billion dollar Bully" is equally entertaining and educational regarding ALLEGED malfeasance by Yelp regarding sales tactics. Writer/director Kaylie Milliken hits the nail on the head in commenting on the opposing objectives regarding Yelp presenting a public image as site for objective reviews but being driven by sales revenue from having businesses advertise to have their companies more prominently displayed.
The most important context regarding "Bully" is that there is your side, the side of the other guy, and the truth. The numerous people whom Yelp is believed to have done wrong whom Milliken interviews seem sincere and mostly admit to lacking a smoking gun regarding their assertions.
At the same time, we do not hear from anyone who considers Yelp CEO/co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman a god. Personal bias enters in the form of assuming that Stoppelman being among the arrogant Millennial tech. guys who are too young to have the life experience required to properly run a country makes him a guy with whom you would like to have a cup of coffee so that you can throw it in his smug (actually) smirking face.
The above comment leads to the disclaimer that this post strays far more into Blogland than roughly 99-percent of reviews. As is the case regarding the other exceptions, this time it is personal.
The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Bully" illustrates the heavy propaganda element of the film. The reminder here is that even propaganda that supports your side is propaganda. This promo. supports this through a few shots of the outdated ambush technique in which the filmmaker sets up a camera in front of a corporate headquarters and either seeks a meeting with an executive or merely confronts employees as they enter and leave the building. One cannot blame a highly compensated person not wanting to interrupt his or her day to sucumb to an ambush or Yelp for not wanting someone who may be an assistant or an IT person speaking for the firm.
Milliken chooses wisely in opening her film with interview footage of an Italian man who owns a pizzeria and is to "Bully" what the quirky little boy who makes Young Sheldon look like Zac Morris is to the 2002 spelling bee documentary "Spellbound."
The restauranteur discusses the old country pattern of a "legitimate businessman" calling attention to the potential for "accidents," the business subsequently experiencing relatively small incidents such as thrown rock through the window, the "insurance" agent showing up again to offer protection against future harm, and the harm either escalating or stopping depending on the answer of the entrepreneur.
The asserted Yelp variation is the company making repeated solicitations and the Yelp ratings of the targeted business either rising or falling depending on the response to that unsolicited pitch.
Man (and woman) on the street interviews reflect the thoughts of many of us. Most comments relate to being sincere when writing online reviews and having faith that everyone else is doing the same. A personal filter is the consistency of both negative and positive reviews and if they jibe with personal experience at places that I have frequented.
Milliken does not address the other side of the coin. There have been numerous times that a business has gone on the attack in responding to a sincere negative Trip Advisor or Yelp review. That has risen to the level of one business threatening severe legal action if I did not remove a Trip Advisor review and the hotel that put me in the "shabby broom closet" that posts in the "Inn Credible New England" section of this site often mention not being far behind.
The true life personal perspective this time is a now-former friend commenting one night that he has not been charged for cable for years; the news the very next day is that his cable is turned off. I had not given the comment any thought and did not call the cable company. I fully suspect that the guy whose free ride abruptly ended will go to his grave thinking that I ratted him out.
Returning to our main story, the alleged manipulation of Yelp reviews begins with having Yelp employees barrage a listing with many negative reviews. That company also is charged with putting positive reviews in a hard-to-find filtered section of a listing. A personal search for a link to filtered reviews for several businesses failed. One advertised site has several posts that comment that the writer cannot understand the basis for the negative reviews.
Perhaps more importantly, we learn that any business cannot opt out of being listed on Yelp. An even more egregious claim is that Yelp must give an advertising company permission to alter the hours of operation or other basic information on a listing on that site.
Milliken adds highly relevant good humor via numerous clips from an episode of the social-commentary-laden animated series "South Park." This outing has citizens of the titular small Colorado town constantly shakedown local businesses for absurd preferential treatment. The direct threat is that a bad Yelp review is the price for non-compliance with an unreasonable request.
The big picture personal perspective regarding all this begins with my reaction on learning about Trip Advisor many years ago. I asked a techie friend what stopped someone from maliciously posting an unfairly negative review; his response of "nothing" said all that needed to be stated,
On another note, I accurately predict regarding my negative business reviews on any site triggers someone who has never written a review posting a glowing review that directly contradicts my post. A prime example of this is my fair review of a pricey B n B that states among other things that the only hanging space is two cloakroom style hooks and that the only hangers are two beat-up wire ones. A review that went up the day after mine was posted was from a virgin reviewer who praised the copious hanging space and commented about the nice hangers. The tone was EXACTLY the same as that of the inn keeper.
The dump which got those two reviews subsequently closing supports the thesis of Milliken that negative reviews (regardless of their sincerity) can break a place, The lesson for these Main Street moguls is to treat your customers right.
I am never malicious in a review (or in a post on this site), but often refrain from dipping my pen in any poison regarding a bad experience if there is a reasonable effort to make an experience pleasant. Trying to put right what once went wrong often earns a positive review,