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The pandemic is bringing out the worst in Yelp reviewers

The site has shared new stats on 'review bombing.'

A sign asking patrons to wear a face mask is seen at the entrance of a restaurant in midtown on August 03, 2021 in New York. - Mayor Bill de Blasio has just announced "first in the nation" vaccine requirements. People will be required to show proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment venues beginning September 13. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
KENA BETANCUR via Getty Images
Karissa Bell
Karissa Bell|@karissabe|February 2, 2022 7:00 AM

Yelp is sharing new stats on the backlash some businesses have faced due to pandemic safety measures like mask requirements. The company says it took down more than 15,500 reviews for violating the company’s COVID-19 guidelines in 2021. That’s a 161 percent increase compared with the same period (March through December) in 2020, when the company first implemented new policies regarding COVID-19 related content.

The stats, which the company published in its 2021 Trust and Safety report, offer a glimpse into how the pandemic has affected the review site. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has implemented rules to mitigate COVID misinformation and encourage businesses to follow public health requirements. For example, reviewers are prohibited from criticizing businesses for implementing pandemic safety measures, like mask and vaccine requirements. The company also allows businesses to indicate vaccine requirements and other safety precautions.

At the same time, though, Yelp has had to navigate a big spike in “review bombing” due to pandemic-related restrictions. In all, nearly 25 percent of all “unusual activity alerts” — when a business’ page sees a sudden influx of reviews that "appear motivated by a recent news event rather than actual consumer experiences" — in 2021 were related to the pandemic, according to the company.

The pandemic wasn’t the only source of review bombing Yelp dealt with over the last year. The report notes the company placed alerts on more than 80 businesses, and removed more than 2,800 reviews, for “incidents related to the Capitol insurrection,” after reviewers targeted businesses owned by alleged rioters. The company also placed alerts on 90 businesses due to review bombing stemming from TikTok.