Long gone are the days of the anonymous critic. Nowadays, anyone with a Yelp account can wield enough power to make a business owner quiver. But you already knew that much. A surprising new development? The rising trend of blatant blackmail—guests demanding freebies and service perks to prevent a zero-star takedown. And it's gotten so out of control that one entrepreneur has even introduced Reviewer Card, where for $100, members get a black card embossed with the words "I Write Reviews," a not so subtle way of saying, "Upgrade me—or else."
The Internet has already lashed out against the ridiculous concept of the Reviewer Card, but at this point, hoteliers and restaurateurs need practical support, not a flurry of blog-based comments. Enter TripAdvisor, which recognizes that extortion—even if just on digital review sites—is more than just a nuisance. In fact, it's illegal in many places. Their new blackmail reporting tool allows hoteliers to report any threats or suspicious behavior before a poor review is posted, creating a flag for similar-sounding, low-scoring posts coming onto the system. If a match is detected, the review will never make it online, whereas before, business owners would have to monitor their published reviews to find questionable content. It's a big move that benefits both businesses and consumers—and the latest weapon in TripAdvisor's strong fraud detection arsenal. For the sake of restaurants, which are just as affected by the blackmail trend (if not more so), we only hope that Yelp follows suit.
Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.