Huckabee Sanders at a White House Press Briefing in June. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty

With the press of a button, users can remotely post reviews of businesses or rate them with low star counts when they are embroiled in media controversies. The Red Hen in Lexington, VA is the most recent victim of this behavior, receiving 15,000 false reviews after the restaurant asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to leave the restaurant.

Why it matters: When these illegitimate postings take over, they have a real impact on businesses. Meanwhile, the regulation of reviews falls on the shoulders of companies like Yelp, which have been criticized for not doing enough to banish fake posts from their sites.

Other big controversies that led to a spike false online activity:

  1. The Red Hen made waves last weekend when co-owner Stephanie Wilkinson asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to leave the establishment. Yelp is now parsing through 15,000 reviews of the restaurant, up from less than 100 before the incident. Many even posted poor reviews for restaurants named The Red Hen in other locations, even though they have no affiliation.
  2. Obama's bear hug: A pizzeria with only two reviews (both five stars) came into the spotlight after their owner posted a picture with then-president Barack Obama. Yelp had to remove 200 fraudulent comments, both positive and negative.
  3. "Pizzagate": In 2016, conspiracy theorists suspected the owner of Comet Pizza in D.C. of working with then-presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta to run a child-slavery ring in the restaurant's basement. The theory was repeatedly debunked, but the restaurant took a sustained hit on Yelp and Facebook, and a gunman entered and fired an AR-15.
  4. "Checking in": More than a million Facebook users "checked in" on the site at Standing Rock Reservation, where protestors tried to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Rumors had circulated that police were targeting users who had checked in, but the police department dismissed them as completely false.

How it works: Companies like Yelp, Facebook, and Google are all vulnerable to media-fueled fake activity.

  • To fight it, Yelp deploys an "Active Cleanup Alert," in which their support team flags and removes fraudulent reviews.
  • In a statement to Wired, a Google representative said that they also have a team that identifies incidents of fake reviews, and uses automated and manual screening to sift them out.
  • Yes, but: These companies must try to strike a neutral attitude in managing postings. Several platforms, Facebook in particular, have been accused of favoring liberal voices when removing content from their sites. All big social media companies still use teams of people in conjunction with algorithms to address these issues because of the nuanced nature of human activity and media controversy.

Don't forget: While politically-motivated online actions (sometimes called "slacktivism") often seem empty, bad reviews can result in real danger for those targeted.

Go deeper

Updated 39 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court blocks Alabama curbside voting measure

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday evening blocked a lower court order that would have allowed voters to cast ballots curbside at Alabama polling places on Election Day.

Whit it matters: With less than two weeks until Election Day, the justices voted 5-3 to reinstate the curbside voting ban and overturn a lower court judge's ruling designed to protect people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill McConnell urges White House not to strike stimulus deal before election.
  2. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  3. Health: New York reports most COVID cases since MayStudies show drop in coronavirus death rate — The next wave is gaining steam.
  4. Education: Schools haven't become hotspots — San Francisco public schools likely won't reopen before the end of the year.
  5. World: Spain becomes first nation in Western Europe to exceed 1 million cases.

U.S. officials: Iran and Russia aim to interfere in election

Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information that can be used to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced at a press conference Wednesday evening.

Why it matters: The revelation comes roughly two weeks before Election Day. Ratcliffe said Iran has sent threatening emails to Democratic voters this week in states across the U.S. and spread videos claiming that people can vote more than once.