The Yelp post was forceful. “This THUG, this TERRORIST & White Supremacist joined, organized and terrorized the capital building last night (Jan. 6th) in a Trump Supporter failed coup,” read the review of Sugar Shack. “If you have a sweet tooth for racism, arrogance & ounces and ounces of blind audacity, this is your spot.”
The Menlo Park candy store is just one of many businesses inundated with bad Yelp reviews after Trump supporters invaded the Capitol building last week. Sugar Shack received nine pages of one-star reviews after a photo emerged of its owner Suzi Tinsley outside the Capitol the day of the attack, draped in a Trump flag and giving the thumbs up. That photo—one Tinsley says she only texted to “a few friends”—now dominates her business’ Yelp page. (Tinsley says she left the rally “long before the agitators stormed the building.”)
Sugar Shack is not alone. A Yelp spokesperson told KQED Arts that in the five days that followed Jan. 6, 50 “unusual activity” alerts, all directly related to the violence in Washington, were issued for Yelp business pages. “To be clear,” the spokesperson said via email, “Yelp condemns the violent actions at the Capitol last week. That said, we remove reviews that are not based on a first-hand consumer experience, even in situations where we may agree with views expressed in these reviews.”
In the hours during and after the Capitol invasion, the rush to social media was swift. For many people watching, feelings of horror crept in as they witnessed rioters seemingly getting away with the attack. And the frustration of seeing too few officers either overwhelmed or somehow complicit had to manifest somewhere. In the aftermath, the desire to see justice served fanned out from Twitter and onto the pages of Yelp.
‘She’s a terrorist’
Examples of businesses targeted because their Trump-supporting owners were in Washington that day are not particularly hard to find. In Midland, Texas, the Yelp page of Becky’s Flowers received an influx of nearly eight pages of one-star reviews after its owner, Jenny Cudd, gleefully went live on Facebook from inside the Capitol. At the time of writing, the florist’s Yelp page is disabled pending investigation. One of the last posted reviews states: “Flowers were dying and the colors didn’t match. Also she’s a terrorist.”
This meting out of Yelp justice is, in an immediate sense, undoubtedly satisfying for those doling it out. But since Yelp’s policy is to “remove reviews that are not based on a first-hand consumer experience” it’s unlikely the recent onslaught of negative comments will do much permanent damage to the businesses’ ratings on the site. And it’s by no means guaranteed that this attention will spell their economic downfall.