Or maybe a shill, or maybe malicious. Should I be flattered?
A few weeks ago, in a state of elation because what I suspected was a major problem with my car turned out to be something minor, I went to Yelp to write a review of my mechanic. I actually created my Yelp account just to write this review. I was that excited. Here (or here) is what I wrote:
[Five stars] 5/15/2013
I love this mechanic. He does excellent work at very reasonable prices, and he never tries to sell you unnecessary parts or services. There is a reason why his shop is ALWAYS busy, even though (1) it’s not in St. Pete’s fanciest neighborhood, and (2) he doesn’t advertise in any way beyond the little rack of business cards at the shop counter.
I’m ashamed to admit that I know little about cars in spite of the fact that my dad was a mechanic his entire working life. The other day, my car (which has 123,000 miles on it) was making a noise like a Mack truck. I honestly thought that every belt, piston, and bearing in the thing was coming loose, or that it had a poltergeist trapped inside. It also needed an oil change. I thought that I might be looking at a huge bill. I took the car to Tom K, who checked it out, found that it needed some power steering fluid (!), changed the oil, and courtesy-checked the other fluids etc. Total cost: $30 and change. The diagnostic alone at a chain place will run you $99 — and you’d better believe that they’ll charge you that price even if it turns out that your car just needed its fluids topped off.
I’ve taken my car to Tom K for things that turned out to be actual serious problems as well, and have always found him to be honest, upfront, and fast. He does excellent work, and deserves all the business he can handle!
One more thing: I am a female. Ladies, he will treat you like the perfectly intelligent and competent human beings that you are. If a mechanic/service tech has ever spoken to you like you’re a two-year-old barely capable of holding a sippy cup, you will appreciate Tom even more because he NEVER does that.
Fast forward to Saturday, when I was reading Yelp reviews of restaurants and trying to find a new place to eat. I decided to visit my review (I know, I know, narcissism), but when I went to the page for Tom K Auto Service, the review was gone. In its place squatted a tiny pale-grey line of text that said “Read 1 filtered review.” I clicked the sad grey link and typed the captcha as I tried to recall any potentially family-unfriendly parts of the review. My review finally appeared beneath another grey line of shame, this one informing the reader that “The reviews below are not factored into the business’s overall star rating.” But why? Why shame my cute little review that way? It didn’t chew the rug, or raid the trash can, or chomp the neighbor’s bratty toddler.
It turns out that the site does not provide specifics about why any particular review gets filtered. That’s unsurprising, given the large number of reviews posted to Yelp every day. But why do reviews get filtered at all? According to Yelp’s Blog, the filter is in place “to protect consumers and business owners from fake, shill or malicious reviews.”
I understand the need for review filters. Sometimes, business owners (or their employees or friends) write malicious reviews of their competitors. I’ve often suspected this when reading reviews of tattoo parlors. Other times, business owners (or their employees or friends) write positive reviews of their own businesses. I’ve often suspected this when reading reviews of salons. And, as the Yelp blog itself notes, freelancing websites positively brim with ads offering to pay — poorly, in my view — for people to write and post fake reviews. It’s one of many shady practices in online writing and marketing, some of which, like article spinning, I had never even heard of until I visited some freelancing sites. As consumers, we would prefer that these fake or shill reviews not exist, because they undermine the quality & accuracy of the information that we seek. When the filter catches these fake reviews, we should be glad.
But sometimes, the filter makes mistakes — and, did you know? — humans working at Yelp are unable to reinstate reviews filtered by an algorithm. So, the one little review on Yelp of my great, local, not-owned-by-a-tire-company mechanic now huddles under its gray pall of shame until the algorithm decides to change its, uh, mind. My review wasn’t fake. I wasn’t paid to write it or post it, although perhaps I (and my mechanic!) should be flattered by the implication that I was.
I’ve been considering what tripped the filter, and have developed the following list, for your reading pleasure. Feel free to add others as you see fit. Have you ever written something that got “filtered” on a review site?
Possible Reasons Why Yelp’s Filter Ostracized My Review
1. It is too positive. — Yes, the word “love” is hyperbolic, breathless — but I did mention the neighborhood. I guess I could have noted that his handwriting is terrible? Besides, have you ever read reviews of popular restaurants? They’re all along the lines of “oooooo yum oh man yum went to heaven yum,” except the one by the requisite angry guy or gal who writes “The food was fine, but I’m one of those people who hates everything. I hated the purple coffee cups. I hate you. I hate the word ‘yum.’ One star.”
2. No spelling errors. — Because nothing says “authentic online review” like spelling errors.
3. Made a negative comparison to “chain store” mechanics. — Some chains really do charge $99 for a diagnostic. I have the records from a place I’ll call “Brimstone” to prove it.
4. Claimed that a mechanic treats female customers fairly. — This is probably what really got the filter’s attention. It’s true, though. The best, smartest, most honest mechanics treat women like humans (& paying customers), for obvious business reasons.
5. Lacks detail in the “other serious problems” paragraph. — True, but I started to worry that the review would be “too long, didn’t read,” like this post.
On that note, this is the Shill, signing off.