Chef/owner David Levi of Portland's hyper-local Vinland accused review site Yelp yesterday of altering reviews of his business. In an email exchange shared with the Press Herald, Levi specifically called out local community manager Steff Deschenes for recently downgrading her four star review of Vinland to three stars. ("Steff, please dispense with the fake friendliness," he insisted in one message, despite Vinland's recent pride in a Travel and Leisure ranking of Portland as the 22nd friendliest city in the country.)
Levi told the Press Herald, "Yelp has manipulated reviews of his restaurant after he declined to buy ads," including obscuring positive reviews behind a "not recommended reviews" link. A Yelp spokesperson denied the claims, as did Deschenes, noting that her role in the company is entirely separate from the sales department and even from her own personal reviews.
Perhaps Levi is hoping to try Yelp in a public court, because the company has repeatedly faced such complaints in a legal court — and won. Last year, for example, the US Court of Appeals found no evidence that Yelp had authored or altered reviews on its site, and simultaneously ruled that even if the company had done so, it would not constitute extortion. Courts have also ruled against plaintiffs arguing that Yelp should compensate reviewers as "employees." Levi may be interested in following the progress of Billion Dollar Bully, though, a documentary in the works about Yelp's "mob-like behavior."