Since it was founded in 2004 by a couple of PayPal employees, Yelp has grown exponentially, featuring reviews of restaurants and other businesses written by users.
But beginning last year, reports began to surface of Yelp employees pressuring businesses to buy “memberships” or see negative reviews at the website multiply.
It’s a form of extortion, say a growing number of businesses across the country, who say they feel they have no choice but to pay for advertising or suffer business losses as positive reviews are suppressed.
Yelp denies those allegations, but Tim Elfrink, a writer at our sister paper Miami New Times will be taking a close look at a lawsuit based on those allegations that is gathering more and more businesses as plaintiffs. Today is his first dispatch, which includes quotes like this:
“They’re the modern-day Mafia. Maybe they’re not holding a gun to my head, but they’re playing the same game,” says… a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It’s too late for policy changes to help out. I just hope all this negative publicity finally tarnishes the company.”