Yelp and Facebook can be great promotional tools for small businesses looking to get footholds in crowded markets. They can also turn into raging battlefields teeming with tens of thousands of angry Americans.
On Monday morning, President Donald Trump led the charge on Twitter, blasting the Red Hen for its allegedly "filthy canopies, doors and windows." But the backlash went into high gear on Yelp, where detractors swarmed the restaurant's public listing and flooded it with one-star ratings and politically charged comments.
Yelp was apparently forced to lock down the page, concealing the most recent ratings and reviews with a graphic that said "Active Cleanup Alert." The activity on the page was being "monitored" by the Yelp support team, a banner at the top of the page said.
Byers Market Newsletter
Get breaking news and insider analysis on the rapidly changing world of media and technology right to your inbox.
"While we don't take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer's personal consumer experience with the business," Yelp said in the message explaining the alert.
The restaurant's Facebook page was also inundated, with some commenters criticizing the eatery for kicking out Sanders and others praising it for taking a stand against the Trump administration over its "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
The most recent post on the page, a May 10 announcement about coq au vin (a French braised chicken dish) being added to the menu, was bombarded with more than 30,000 comments as of Monday afternoon.
Small businesses that find themselves in the news for whatever reason can now expect a digital deluge on their social media and business pages, some of which are the primary online presence for independently owned restaurants and bars. Yelp listings, for example, are among the top search results on Google, and the user-written reviews sometimes rival those of professional critics.
As of Monday, the Red Hen was already deep in the grip of online hysteria. Conspiracy theorists who had erroneously pegged a Washington pizza parlor as the site of a child sex slave operation were already showing signs of zeroing in on the Red Hen's staff.