Yelp censors comments critical of TSA

A few weeks ago fellow TSA crusader Jim Bovard told me that there were all these TSA reviews on Yelp. I was surprised, given that I think of Yelp only in terms of hotel, restaurant, and other business reviews. He gave me a link to reviews of the TSA at Chicago O’Hare (ORD), but I soon discovered that there are several different pages of Yelp TSA reviews.

So I posted one, under the name “Lisa S.”

Yesterday I got an email from Yelp headquarters saying this:

JAN 15, 2016  |  11:07AM PST

Hi Lisa,We wanted to let you know that we’ve removed your review of TSA – Transportation Security Administration. Our Support team has determined that it falls outside our Content Guidelines (http://www.yelp.com/guidelines) because it represents a conflict of interest.When reviewing, you should focus on businesses that you interact with as a customer, and not post reviews of businesses that you engage with as part of your own business.We hope you will continue to participate on Yelp while keeping our Content Guidelines in mind.

Removed Content:
I’m the editor and chief writer at a civil liberties watchdog site called TSA News (tsanewsblog dot com). I’ve been keeping tabs on this agency since 2009, so I’m not going to repeat here excerpts from the thousands of posts my colleagues and I have written. Suffice to say the TSA is an out-of-control, criminal agency that abuses people with impunity. Readers can click on over to read more if they’re interested. 

Regards,
The Yelp Support Team
San Francisco, California

Yelp Support Center | http://www.yelp-support.com
Yelp Official Blog | http://officialblog.yelp.com
Yelp for Business Owners | https://biz.yelp.com
So I wrote back to Yelp support with:
Hi, Yelp. What a pity. And what a mistake. I don’t run a business that has anything to do with the TSA. The writing I do at TSA News is UNPAIDAll volunteer. But hey, no biggie. I’ll just create a fake identity and re-post my review.
But before trying to create a fake identity, I tried one more thing. I went to all the different Yelp TSA pages I could find and left one line:
The TSA is an out-of-control, criminal agency that abuses people with impunity.
And lo and behold, a couple of hours later, I get another message from Yelp:
JAN 15, 2016  |  02:00PM PST

Hi Lisa,We wanted to let you know that we’ve removed all of your reviews of TSA. Our Support team has determined that they fall outside our Content Guidelines (http://www.yelp.com/guidelines) because they appear to represent a conflict of interest.We hope you will continue to participate on Yelp while keeping our Content Guidelines in mind.

Now, think about it: Yelp publishes millions of reviews. They come in from all over the world. How can the Yelp team possibly keep tabs on every single one, unless somebody flags a comment or somehow calls it to their attention?

Given that the TSA routinely censors comments on its blog, as we’ve pointed out with evidence so many times, I don’t find it hard to believe that the agency is also keeping tabs on Yelp reviews. Of course I don’t know this for a fact; it’s impossible for me to know. I’m speculating based on the TSA’s behavior at its own blog, a place that is ostensibly set up explicitly for public feedback.

How pathetic that this powerful, multi-billion-dollar agency is so afraid of criticism. (And by the way, I’m not the only one who’s noticed that something fishy is going on at Yelp.)

Tell ya what — here are all the links I could find to TSA pages on Yelp. Let’s have a ball leaving comments. Now I’m off to create a fake identity.

(Graphic courtesy of Entrepreneur)
  • Patrick Downe

    Free speech was an ideal that never quite made it. It’s too bad first time air travelers will not be warned ahead of their a TSA experience; particularly if it causes long-lasting trauma for the individual.
    As for everyone else, they know the score. Some prefer to turn a blind eye because ignorance is bliss. Others refrain from unnecessary air travel. Freedom of travel (or freedom of assembly) is another ideal that has bit the dust. The republic is dead. Long live the police state!

    • Susan Richart

      “particularly if it causes long-lasting trauma for the individual.”

      I believe a TSA patdown is far more traumatising to far more people than anyone realizes. That little girl who was groped a few weeks ago will suffer for a long time to come; she may never get over it.

      When one considers the % of the population that has been sexually abused, the numbers further traumatised by the TSA is mind-boggling.

      NEVER GO INTO A PRIVATE ROOM WITH THE TSA!

  • RB

    Does this suggest that Yelp controls the message across the entire review spectrum?

    • Certainly looks like that. See the link about something fishy.

  • Susan Richart

    Still waiting for an e-mail to confirm and post my comment.

    • In any case, please post it here so we can read it whether Yelp publishes it or not.

      • Susan Richart

        It’s my usual spiel about refusing to go to a private room:

        http://www.yelp.com/biz/transportation-security-administration-arlington-2

        Does this link get you to where I made the comment?

        • Nope. I don’t see your comment. I do, however, see some good ones. For instance:

          Tymothy B.
          Austin, TX
          8/22/2015
          “Horrendous. Physical altercation. Verbal abuse. Profiling. Racism. Terrible customer service. An absolute sham of real security. Wasted tax dollars. Honestly–completely wasted humanity.PLEASE SOMEONE MAKE A MOCKUMENTARY OR SPOOF OF THESE CLOWNS.”

  • Joey Bach

    Just sent this to Yelp — >

    Your removal of the post from Lisa S. for TSA – Transportation Security Administration for the reason “conflicts of interest” decision needs to be reversed. The post does not violate your guidelines. Please have the individual who removed the post be sent back to re-training.

    Please confirm to me in an email that (a) the post was re-instated and (b) the individual who removed the post was sent back for re-training.

    Thanks you,

    Joseph Bach

  • Sai

    TSA is getting volunteers to run its social media:

    http://www.dhs.gov/loaned-executive-program
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/checkpoints-borders-policy-debate/1736321-you-can-tsa-spokeshole-if-you-work-free.html

    I assume they have paid full-time PR staff too, like Curtiss Burns (aka “Blogger Bob”).

    It’s running @AskTSA & @TSA on Twitter. Don’t know what else.

    FWIW I think that @AskTSA is actually worthwhile. It does at least help to provide people with info to the closest thing to an official word on a given question, and they very regularly point people to the form for making an FTCA claim, which is also good. (How many of those claims go unanswered, like mine, is something I’ll be finding out via FOIA lawsuit #2 in the near future.)

    However, it is no excuse for rulemaking by press release (thanks to Edward Hasbrouck for that very apt term). But hey, I’m already suing them for that part. 🙂 https://s.ai/tsa/legal/46110

    • Susan Richart

      The FTCA thing is a bit disingenuous, Sai. Giving people a link to file a claim that will be ignored by TSA is not helpful. I often tweet a response to those people and suggest they not bother because the TSA doesn’t care if their property is damaged.

      BTW, the good folks @AskTSA are telling some poor person that his Clear Care is considered a medically necessary product and he can bring it on the plane with him. In fact, because it contains hydrogen peroxide, he cannot bring it on board.

      • Sai

        Filing a claim is a legal requirement before someone can sue them for it. (As you know, I am in favor of suing TSA.) I am going to FOIA (and sue for) records of what they do then. If they routinely black hole complaints they don’t like, I’ll make sure that’s public.

        Hpox — CC in particular — I know for a fact to have been permitted in some airports and not in others due to variation in policy. (I have tsa contact center notes that say so.)

  • Daisiemae

    I went over there, but in order to leave a post, I had to post under my real name. I don’t want to do that.

    However, I did notice that every single comment was a glowing recommendation.

    Yeah! Like that ever happens in the real world. Most of the time people post on Yelp or similar places because they want to complain. Only a small percentage of people bother to go online to post favorable comments.

    So every…single…comment is not only positive but glowing?

    Yeah! Right!

    • Susan Richart

      Come on, Daisiemae! Make up a name and an address if they ask for one. 🙂

      • Daisiemae

        When I go on there, it already identifies me by name. No idea how to change that.

        • Susan Richart

          Well, that’s bizarre as I just signed up with a completely fake name.

  • Susan Richart

    I tried to edit a comment below but don’t see the edit so here’s my TSA blog comment from January 11th:

    Susan Richart said…Anonymous wrote:

    “West, no. Most of the time it is Sunday
    or Monday before any comments are allowed on the latest blotter post.
    These were approved sometime on Saturday.

    So this is an unusual
    situation. The first two comments are pro-TSA. Based upon the blotter
    team’s approval/deletion history, these were approved much earlier than
    if they had been critical comments.”

    It used to be even worse, Anonymous. Pro-TSA comments would appear immediately after the week’s thread was posted, almost as if someone in Bobby’s group had a heads-up and then immediately responded with a pro-TSA comment.

  • Susan Richart

    Here’s a clue, Lisa:

    “The government isn’t paying Yelp to host government agencies, but Herman
    said that agencies that decide to use the site need to invest in
    monitoring what people are saying about them.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/08/18/the-federal-government-wants-you-to-review-it-on-yelp/

    • Yep. As I suspected, they’re monitoring.

      The federal government wants you to review it on Yelp
      by Lisa Rein
      August 18, 2015

      The federal government is officially encouraging the public to rate their experiences with the biggest, most frustrating bureaucracy to deal with in the country — just like they would review the new Thai restaurant down the street.

      Taxpayers will be able to weigh in, in real time, on whether they waited in line 20 minutes or two hours to renew their passports; whether the airport security screeners they dealt with were surly or sweet; whether the U.S. Forest Service worked fast enough to put out wildfires spreading in their state.

      That’s the goal of a new initiative the General Services Administration’s DigitalGov team launched last week. Yelp, the popular Web and mobile service that helps people find local businesses by ratings and is best known for restaurant reviews, is now open for official government use.

      GSA is opening the door to agencies to launch new Yelp pages to listen and respond to comments from the public, then use the data to drive improvements to services.

      “This allows agencies to go in and engage, and dedicate customer service staff to monitoring the feedback,” said Justin Herman, who leads social media for GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

      Right now, the new Yelp section for “Public Services & Government” is a collection of reviews of hundreds of federal and state tourist destinations and buildings, including memorials, courthouses, motor vehicle agencies, embassies, fire departments, landmarks and post offices.

      But GSA is counting on the federal agencies that interact with the public the most to use the service to get much-needed feedback about customer service.

      Ha!

      This reader has it right:

      Curmudgeon10
      8/19/2015 3:29 PM EDT
      I suppose in some alternative universe this MIGHT lead to an improved level of service from this agency, but I’ve been around DC way too long to expect that result. My guess is that data from this effort will probably be used — in however twisted and difficult to understand manner —- to buttress requests for more $$, and that’s all.

  • Susan Richart

    “I’m speculating based on the TSA’s behavior at its own blog, a place that is ostensibly set up explicitly for public feedback.”

    Speaking of the TSA Blog, here’s a comment I left this morning but I am not expecting it to see the light of day:

    Thread posted at 4:52 p.m. and the first comment, favorable of course, is posted at 5:09 p.m.

    [https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=2336044328955501444&postID=2101724448644285070&page=1&token=1452951987110]

    Something is surely rotten in TSAland.

    Mary Epps, the commenter, hasn’t been heard from in a while. Her last comment that I can find was posted 25 minutes after the blog thread of April 25, 2013 appeared at 6:01 p.m. Surprise, surprise, it was a favorable comment.

    http://blog.tsa.gov/2013/04/passengers-may-now-receive-notification.html

    I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if TSA isn’t interfering at Yelp.

    • “TSA Week in Review: January 8 – 14”

      1 Comment – Show Original Post

      1 – 1 of 1

      mary epps said…Thanks all , and thanks Bob

      January 15, 2016 at 5:09 PM

      Do you think Mary Epps works for the TSA? Is that what you’re saying?

      • Susan Richart

        I expect that she does work for TSA or she is a close friend of someone, either Bob or someone else who works with Bob. There’s been speculation before that pro-TSA people are tipped of on the posting of threads as favorable comments tend to appear very soon after a posting. Recently that speculation has raised its head again.

  • 1amWendy

    Not surprising in the least…