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19 Aug, 2015 01:09

‘I really need negative stars for the TSA’: Govt joins Yelp to gather reviews

‘I really need negative stars for the TSA’: Govt joins Yelp to gather reviews

Local restaurants, doctors’ offices, bars and… the federal government? A new agreement between Yelp and the feds will grant the state the ability to officially solicit opinions from the public and even respond to them on the review service.

While people have been reviewing their experiences with government agencies for years, their comments have rarely, if ever, made their way to the people actually working in the departments. However, under the terms of the new agreement with Yelp, government agencies can either claim the Yelp pages already set up to gather reviews of the department or they can establish their own pages.

If an existing page is claimed, government officials can then officially respond to reviews that are left by others. Otherwise, an agency can decide to create a brand new page. All departments that are on Yelp will be categorized under the “Public Services and Government” section. No advertisements will be shown on government pages, the Washington Post reported.

“It’s exciting because it allows government agencies to take real-time feedback from citizens and act upon it in a way that helps our democracy operate better,” Yelp’s vice president of public policy Luther Lowe said to Time Magazine.

The number of departments listed on Yelp may well be quite large, with agencies ranging from the Transportation Security Administration to the US Forest Service likely expected to take part. In addition to receiving and responding to reviews, agencies will also be allowed to use the data to implement any necessary changes.

“This allows agencies to go in and engage, and dedicate customer service staff to monitoring the feedback,” said Justin Herman, who works in social media for the General Services Administration, to the Washington Post.

The move after lawmakers under the New Democrat Coalition called on officials to create a “Yelp for government” in order to increase transparency and accountability.

“In order to make government work better, we need to make it easier for people to say what’s working – and what isn’t,” said New Democrat Coalition Chairman Ron Kind after the letter was issued in July 2015. “With modern innovations in social media, we have an opportunity to harness tremendous technological progress to improve government accountability and transparency.”

If current Yelp reviews are any indication, government agencies are going to have their hands full, particularly if users leave reviews base their reviews off of political leanings rather than any working experience with a specific agency. Just one day after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new measures to drastically cut methane emissions, one Yelp review took to the platform to criticize the move.

“Today's proposed methane emissions regulations from the EPA on the oil and gas industry are costly and complicated for few environmental benefits,” user Lucy F. wrote in a one-star review.

Meanwhile, current TSA pages feature more than two-dozen reviews, ranging from individuals who had great experiences – mostly with the department’s “pre-check” system at airports – to those who couldn’t resist lambasting the department.

“I really need negative stars for the TSA! In fact, there wouldn't be enough negative stars if the galaxy and all the stars were sucked into a massive black hole,” Eric A. wrote in his review of the agency at Chicago's international airport.

Even a presidential contender got in on the act. Republican candidate Carly Fiorina left a review for the TSA criticizing the agency for spending $160 million on flawed body scanners.

There’s no precise timetable for when agencies will take over their Yelp pages or begin new ones, but Yelp said the new agreement will be implemented over the weeks and months ahead.

In the private sphere, Yelp’s practices have come under fire from business owners who claim that the company solicits money from those listed on the service in exchange for help managing their reviews. Some business owners have complained that once they declined the offer, negative reviews suddenly began popping up and replacing positive ones in the feed.

Yelp maintains that its advertising operations are separate from the reviews that are posted and has rejected the accusations against it.