Yelp reveals pandemic mandates fueled review bombing in 2021

Yelp has released its Trust & Safety Report for 2021, and the information it contains shines a spotlight on the challenges businesses are facing going into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.Yelp is one of the main destinations on the internet for finding reviews of local businesses and restaurants. Users can give companies a star rating, as well as a description of their experiences while visiting. Businesses, for their part, can post details about the services they offer, restaurants can post their menus, and more.

Unfortunately, as the pandemic has progressed, businesses in virtually every industry have struggled with negative reviews. As the political and social environment has become more charged, individuals and groups have come down strongly on one side or the other of virtually every aspect of the pandemic response: mask or no mask, vaccine or no vaccine, social distancing or no social distancing. This has led to a dramatic uptick in reviews that have nothing to do with the services a business provides, a trend called "review bombing."

In this environment, businesses have had to make decisions regarding the actions they and their staff will take and, in some cases, they've paid dearly as a result.

What the 2021 Trust & Safety Report reveals

Yelp implemented COVID-19 content guidelines "in March 2020 to better protect businesses from reputational harm due to pandemic-related circumstances beyond their control," the company explained as part of its report. From April to December 2021, Yelp saw a 161% increase in the number of reviews removed for violating these rules, coming in at more than 15,500.

As part of its efforts to crack down on review bombing, the company removed 150 negative reviews criticizing businesses for their vaccine policies. Yelp also posted more than 420 Unusual Activity Alerts or Public Attention Alerts on business pages that saw an increase of reviews accusing companies of racist or discriminatory behavior, as well as those that were the target of such behavior. The end result was the elimination of another 29,300 reviews.

Yelp isn't the only company struggling to combat review bombing. Google has also had to adjust its policies to protect businesses, putting "extra protections in place to remove Google reviews that criticize a business for its health and safety policies or for complying with a vaccine mandate," the company explained in a blog post.

Yelp's Trust & Safety Report for 2021 gives a sad glimpse into the challenges businesses are facing, and will likely continue to face for some time.