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

Houston public health system CEO says coronavirus situation is "dire"

Houston's coronavirus situation is "dire, and it's getting worse, seems like, every day," Harris Health System CEO and President Dr. Esmail Porsa said Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

The big picture: Porsa said the region is seeing numbers related to the spread of the virus that are "disproportionately higher than anything we have experienced in the past." He noted that Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital's ICU is at 113% capacity, and 75% of its beds are coronavirus patients.

Fund managers start to board the stock bandwagon

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Asset managers at major U.S. investment firms are starting to get bullish with their clients, encouraging stock buying and trying not to get left behind right as the metrics on tech stocks rise back to highs not seen since the dot-com crash of 2000.

What's happening: Appetite for stocks is starting to return, but slowly as institutional money managers were overwhelmingly sitting on the sidelines in cash during April and May.

2 hours ago - World

China bans Cruz and Rubio over Xinjiang criticism

Photos: Graeme Jennings/Pool/Getty Images; Al Drago/Pool/Getty Images

China said Monday that it will ban entry to Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over their criticisms of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the AP reports.

The big picture: The move seems to be retaliatory after the U.S. announced sanctions on four Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region last week.