Picketing the Virtual Storefront: Content Moderation and Political Criticism of Businesses on Yelp

Ben Medeiros


This article examines incidents in which business owners incur criticism on the consumer review platform Yelp based on political ideology. I analyze two case studies from the summer of 2018 by considering the sentiments expressed in the review texts, the application of Yelp’s relevant policies, and the tactical adaptations of reviewers. The case studies evince a normative conflict over how the platform should treat viral criticism of this sort. While Yelp clearly cannot truly function as a laissez-faire public forum, its moderation criteria can be gamed, and its efforts evidently exclude a range of sentiments that some users find meaningful. The article provides an in-depth exploration of a platform that has received somewhat less attention in the growing literature on the role of private intermediaries in shaping what kinds of speech attain visibility in the digital public sphere.



platforms, content moderation, free speech, Yelp, commodity activism

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