Yelp warns users about Virginia shooter’s page

Yelp has slapped a warning notice on the business page of James T. Hodgkinson, the alleged shooter in the congressional baseball game attack, after it got deluged with sarcastic and politically charged reviews following news of the Wednesday shooting.

Visitors to the page for JTH Inspections are greeted by a red pop-up box and the rest of the page obscured. The "Active Cleanup Alert" tells users that the business "has recently been in the news in connection with a recent tragedy. As a result, people may be coming to this page to share their thoughts and concerns."

Laurent Crenshaw, director of public policy for Yelp, told POLITICO that "our priority is ensuring there is honest, first-hand content on the platform, and notifying users when we think there’s not." Yelp’s terms of service permit reviews based only on customer’s direct experiences with the relevant business.

"Right now, if you go to the page, you see people leaving snide remarks related to the shooting. So our user operation team is going through the page, and reviewing and removing reviews" that are tied to Wednesday’s events, he said.

The pop-up box counsels Yelp users that the company takes the such steps "regardless of the business and regardless of the event at issue in order to avoid injecting our own varied viewpoints into the debate," saying that, "Unfortunately, that means that we need to remove comments even when we agree with them."

Social media pages tied to controversies often become gathering points for those eager to comment on the events. Yelp has posted similar warnings in the past, including for Comet Ping Pong, the Washington pizza restaurant that was the target of a fake news story about Hillary Clinton and a pedophilia ring.

Yelp also alerts users to businesses it thinks are especially likely to sue customers over negative reviews, Crenshaw said.

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