It’s a long story, but after years of driving imported cars, I ended up with an unusual Italian car that features an American-built engine. So when I needed a part, I actually visited the local Ford dealership here in Santa Fe for the first time, and found the staff to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable and friendly. They actually fixed my car for me while I waited!
I said to myself, “these guys are terrific!,” and while rethinking my entire history of owning and driving unreliable, expensive, and difficult-to-service imported machinery, I looked up the dealership on the internet — and found, at the very top of the Google search, a stupid, misleading, and downright diabolical web site named “Yelp,” whose only benefit, it seems to me, is to serve as an early-warning system for the dangerous nonsense and junk information which abound on the internet today.
This successful, well-established Ford dealership — which proved so helpful, friendly, knowledgeable, and courteous — received an atrocious ONE STAR rating from Yelp. That rating was based on exactly TWO reviews they received (both bad) from two eerily similar reviewers, both out-of-towners (also down-and-outers, from what I could gather) who were both driving junky cars, both broke down in New Mexico on the way to other places, both visited this dealership out of desperation, and both were dissatisfied because they didn’t get the dirt cheap service and uncomplicated, optimistic prognoses they undoubtedly hoped for.
TWO REVIEWS! I thought of the thousands of customers this business must have served over the past decades, maybe even tens of thousands…so many new cars sold and serviced, so many factory-trained mechanics working long hours to keep people’s wheels turning, year after year. Part of the community, helping the community. And then to find that a solid, praiseworthy business like this received a poor review from this “Yelp” — who the hell are these people, where the hell are these people, where did they come from, why are they here, why do we need them, and most of all, why in God’s name should we listen to them?
I became indignant, even angry, at the “mechanics,” if you want to call it that, of Yelp (and Yahoo, and Google, and Trip Advisor, and other online critics and reviewers). I wondered what right these companies had to offer these junk reviews of fine businesses and their hard-working, dedicated employees. Where was the balance, the fairness, the truth, the real value of this information? I thought harder. Who said these customers — assuming they even existed — actually visited this dealership? Maybe they were both fictional characters, created by competitors or antagonists or Yelp shills (read on)!
I mean, come on: TWO customers out of thousands, tens of thousands, decades’ worth of largely happy customers? We are talking about statistically-insignificant information — true junk data. If it were a scientific experiment or research paper, the “results” would be thrown out and ignored. But how many people, especially young people “raised on the internet,” might actually believe this nonsense, and base their opinions and their actions on it? A quick glance at Google reveals a shabby one-star rating, and the prospective customer moves on, having garnered a “couldn’t be more wrong” opinion of the value of the business.
But wait, it gets worse. After reading the two bad reviews, I saw immediately below them an ADVERTISEMENT for another Santa Fe automotive repair facility, and it was painted in absolutely glowing terms. The people positively gushed. And then it all became clear: read the bogus reviews, then read the glowing Yelp-Preferred reviews from one of their advertisers, and voila, you might naturally pick the Yelp-vetted advertiser after reading the Yelp-bashed reviews.
What a system, huh? Set ’em up, knock ’em down. At least Consumer Reports, for all its shortcomings, does not accept advertising. But Yelp pretends to be objective, and accepts advertising at the same time!
When one encounters injustice of this magnitude, one’s natural response is to fight it — you know, try and get people to write positive reviews and “balance out” the false, negative picture painted by Yelp. But then I thought, “why give Yelp any time, energy, or effort whatsoever? Why not simply ignore it? Why not treat it with all the respect it deserves: EXACTLY ZERO?”
And then I was reminded of the old adage: “Don’t wrestle with a pig. You get all dirty, and the pig enjoys it.”