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Hotel Charges $500 For A Negative Yelp Review - But That Isn't As Unfair As It Sounds

05/08/2014 10:40 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

News that a hotel in New York has started fining people $500 for a negative Yelp review has had pretty inevitable consequences.

Bad ones. The hotel's Yelp page has been swamped with bad grades, dropping to a single star, while the hotel is now listed as "permanently closed" on Google Maps (despite still being open).

But while all this is completely understandable, it also shouldn't come as a surprise -- including the fact that a hotel might want to protect itself against bad reviews.

Here's why.

yelp review

The power of an online review can potentially make or break a business. And with websites like Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor giving anybody the chance to become an expert in the services industry it can leave a restaurant or hotel dangerously vulnerable.

Peer-reviewed websites are in general a good thing, however with very few quality control systems in place it's the easiest thing for vindictive or prank-minded individuals to leave a wave of negative abuse about an establishment that, to all intents and purposes, doesn't deserve the stick.

And yes, establishments are now fighting back.

For some businesses, that just means calling out sexism, scams or just plain meanness in certain reviews.

For others it means going to the courts. The Union Street Guest House might be in the news at the moment but in France a blogger was fined £1,200 because her scathing review of a restaurant was 'too prominent' on Google's search listings.

Think that's bad? In 2011 a food blogger in Taiwan was jailed for 30 days and fined nearly $7000 after complaining that the noodles she'd tried at a restaurant were 'too salty'.

This and the most recent ruling in France sets a dangerous precedent. And with some judges prepared to rule that any negative review -- justified or not -- can be punishable, it can become extremely hazy in trying to work out who has the final say in all of this. Oh, and then to add a little bit of extra confusion there's that whole 'right to be forgotten thing'. Eesh.

So what does this mean for the future? Well expect to see more cases of businesses fighting back, a lot more angry reviews, and ultimately more confusion for consumers looking for balanced advice.