Google, Yelp, Facebook and TripAdvisor have disabled the ability for users to post reviews on the Red Hen in Lexington, VA. Google was caught taking down reviews in real time, and has frozen the restaurant at nearly a 5 star rating. Facebook has removed it's review page altogether for the business, while Yelp has a notice that it's review page is being "watched" and has largely disabled new content from being posted.
Because reviews are by nature subjective, tech giants are wading into a difficult arena by trying to regulate and control the flow of people's opinion against for-profit businesses. As it stands now, there are millions of people who have a negative opinion of the Red Hen, (conversely millions have formed a new positive opinion), and yet Silicon Valley doesn't want those opinions to be stated, but for how long?
It is likely the negative opinion people have of the Red Hen will persist for years and will not forget their opinion anytime soon, and so Google and other giants are have to ask the difficult question "How long and how vigorously will we protect individual businesses from people's opinion?"
Further adding to the difficulty is that if Google and Facebook make it a policy police reviews and protect for-profit businesses that wind up in the news cycle, they run the risk of becoming an advocate (for one side or the other) and no longer neutral. Additionally, barring users from posting reviews can also create a negative user experience for those users.
|Google reports an "error" when leaving a review on the Lexington, VA Red Hen
Current policies of review sites like Yelp and Google emphasize that a review must be based on a personal experience with a business. But this is impossible to regulate. There is no way for even a Google algorithm to determine if a reviewer did or did not have a personal experience. Furthermore, the rule that a personal experience is required to leave a review is seen by some as short-sighted.
Imagine two black men sitting in a cafe minding their own business at a table. They haven't ordered anything and say they are waiting for someone. They are then asked to leave because they are making the staff "uncomfortable". Feeling violated, they refuse, and the police are called in and they are forcibly removed for trespassing, a horrific incident that has every visible sign of racism and bigotry. The event was filmed and confirmed, and it is proven to have happened. It did happen, it happened at Starbucks in Philadelphia in April of 2018.
Now imagine the relatives and friends of these 2 people who witness what happened on the news and are outraged. They quickly go to Yelp and Google to write a review on this particular business, except Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor would rather they not.
This is because they didn't have the personal experience with the cafe, so they are therefore, according to the media sites, not qualified to write a review. And this is where tech giants can land in hot water. Black people all over America are affected by what happened. Every person of color feels a justifiable and entitled right to post a review on this business. Because the 2 men who were mistreated are a representation of a larger whole, those in the whole feel they lose their voice by not being able to post a review. There is a strong case to be made that Google is wading into unjustified territory by preventing people from posting a review who are legitimately affected by a business, even if they don't have a personal experience with a business. Who would tell the mothers and fathers of these 2 men that they are not 'qualified' to write a review on that particular starbucks simply because they didn't order a latte there? There are things far more important about a business, than the products and services it sells.
If Google and Facebook want reviews on businesses to reflect ONLY a "consumer experience" then they are truly missing the larger picture that businesses who choose to engage in public policy, discrimination, or politics are affecting large groups of people, and therefore those groups of people have a vested interest in letting other consumers know about that business. This is not the same as a "third party review" where someone leaves a review based on another person's opinion. These are reviews based on a verifiable, factual public event. Any time a business does something public that affects a large number of people, then it opens itself up to reviews from a much larger audience.
Any restaurant that kicks out a minority, or does something else that discriminates based on a large portion of the public, should therefore open itself up to being reviewed by more than just the one person it kicked out. For Google or Facebook to silence others from reviewing a business that engages in public policy or discrimination is doing a dis-service to members of the public.
If a business kicks out someone who has a service animal, and this is verified, for example, why shouldn't other people with service animals have a right to review that business? Do they really need to actually order a bowl of soup in order to review a business, or is a business more than just a bowl of soup?
If Google wants people to prove that they ordered a bowl of soup before they are "entitled" to leave a review against a restaurant, imagine how that would fly back in 1940 in the south where businesses routinely kicked out people simply based on the color of their skin. A lot of people would not want to have to 'eat there' in order to leave a review about them. Google and Facebook are treading in very hot water when they try to regulate the opinions and voice of other people who feel personally affected by discrimination of any kind by a business, even if it didn't happen to them.
Arthur Hunter is a computer programmer and co-founder of Theravive. He has been in the tech industry for over 20 years, with multiple Microsoft certifications. He has a love and passion for the intersection of technology and mental health and how the gadgets we use and the time we spend on them play a part in our mental well being, for better or worse. Together with his wife in 2007 they founded Theravive, which currently has thousands of licensed therapists and psychologists. He enjoys writing on occasion, reporting on mental health and technology. You can reach Arthur at 360-350-8627 or write him at webadmin - at - theravive.com.