Yelp was the place we all went to vent in 2021

From COVID-fueled posts to "review bombing," the reviews site had a turbulent year.

Meara Isenberg Writer
Meara covers streaming service news for CNET. She recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she wrote for her college newspaper, The Daily Texan, as well as for state and local magazines. When she's not writing, she likes to dote over her cat, sip black coffee and try out new horror movies.
Meara Isenberg
2 min read

Many people turn to Yelp to find reviews on restaurants, salons and all sorts of other businesses. But in 2021, people visited the reviews platform to share their opinions on far weightier topics than all-you-can-eat sushi and haircuts.

"In 2021, we saw a rise in people taking to Yelp to express their views on everything from the violent insurrection on the US Capitol, and vaccine and mask mandates, to racism and discrimination," wrote the company in its Trust & Safety Report for 2021, released Wednesday.

The company saw more people violate its COVID-19 content guidelines in 2021 than the year prior, according to the report. The guidelines "protect businesses from reputational harm due to pandemic-related circumstances beyond their control, such as criticisms of mask requirements," Yelp said. From April-December 2021, Yelp removed more than 15,500 reviews for breaching its COVID-19 guidelines, a 161% increase from the same months in 2020. 

Yelp also said it responded to numerous cases of "review bombing" in 2021. Yelp defines this as "when a business gains public attention through news coverage or social media" and receives reviews driven by those events rather than consumer's firsthand experiences. Review bombing attempts in 2021 spanned people's reactions to topics such as COVID-19 health precautions, the Capitol insurrection, and alleged incidents of racism and discrimination, the report said, and violate Yelp's content policies. 

Celebrities can be a catalyst for these reviews too. In the report, Yelp highlighted an incident where singer Demi Lovato visited a Los Angeles frozen yogurt shop and criticized the business for its sugar-free offerings. "People rushed to the business's Yelp page to leave five-star reviews in defense of the dessert shop," Yelp said. TikTok posts have also contributed to review bombing, the report said.. 

Yelp says it invests in technology and human moderators to address and mitigate COVID misinformation. The company places pop-ups called Consumer Alerts on business pages to warn users when it detects "extreme attempts to manipulate ratings and reviews," according to the report. More than 1,850 of these alerts appeared in 2021.