RIP Society: Yelp Reviewers Sue Because They Are “Unpaid Writers”

By: Claire Hannum / October 31, 2013

Plenty of people write Internet comments, especially if they found a dead fly in their guacamole. But some Yelp reviewers want payment for their “writing,” which they claim is integral to the site’s success. A California class action lawsuit filed by a group of reviewers says they are actually unpaid employees. Yelp is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, they claim, because the site “could not exist, nor make its enormous returns, without its domination and control over non-wage writers.” They even call the site a “slave ship.” Seriously? 

The Yelpers claim being called “volunteers” or “contributors” is actually a “misclassification of employees.”  The suit also claims that Yelp punishes Elite reviewers if they leave negative reviews of Yelp sponsors. Apparently, there’s a quota for how many reviews need to be filed at each star level, and reviewers sometimes fudge the their opinions to meet it. Reviewers can seemingly be “fired” as well.

Uncompensated work is a real issue, especially in creative fields like  film and writing, where there are a lot more people want to do the job than there are positions available.  From the “writing for free” debate to the lawsuits filed by unpaid interns at media companies, there has been a huge focus recently on exploitation in these industries.  But this lawsuit is just eye-roll inducing. Yes, some commenters do add value to Yelp with their thoughtful reviews.  But ultimately, reviewers’ voluntary use of the site during their own free time is not equal to some kind of indentured servanthood. And it would open a humungous Pandora’s box for other Internet commenters on other web sites as well, especially since many of them operate under anonymity.

It’s your choice to write a comment or review online for no payment. Own it.

[Eater]
[LA Weekly]
[Business Insurance]
[Techdirt]

[Image of Internet commenter via Shutterstock]