“It sucked there al lying to you and that pillow guy.”
“Horrible product, just like it’s CEO.”
“It is okay not soft ! But Mike Lindell wants to declare martial law in America, he won’t be getting my business! Stick to pillows pal.”
Even the recent positive reviews might be confusing, such as one reading, “Would be a full 5 star review but from the product listing I was expecting a box with this — was hoping to eventually get this autograph by Mike who was a key Trump advisor and now is a famous celebrity.”
Search for the company on Yelp, and you’ll be greeted with a message explaining that comments are disabled because “this business recently received increased public attention, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news rather than actual consumer experiences with the business.” (A Yelp spokesperson added that such designations are temporary.)
The catalyst for these reviews seems to be MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell’s repeated push of debunked claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. (Several major retailers also stopped carrying his products, but none have pointed directly to his political affiliation as the cause.)
It’s all part of a new type of online activism. Disagree with a company’s politics? Leave a hyperbolic review of their products online. And it’s not just relegated to MyPillow.
“As things have become more polarized in the past few years, it’s becoming an opportunity to get your voice heard,” said George Washington University marketing professor Donna Hoffman, of online reviews. When a company betrays a consumer’s politics, said consumer wants to know: “ ‘What outlets do I have? What action can I take as a citizen? What can I do?’ And one of the things they feel they can do is write a negative review,” she added. “There’s a lot of frustration, and this is an outlet for that.” Plus, she said, reviews might be genuinely trying to hurt the person’s business.
It can happen to businesses large and small alike. Suzi Tinsley, the owner of the Sugar Shack, a Menlo Park, Calif., candy shop, learned as much when a photo of her at President Trump’s Jan. 6 rally was posted on Twitter, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In response, her shop’s Yelp page flooded with bad reviews, one of which read, “If you support what happened in dc yesterday, patronize this establishment. If you don’t support what happened, don’t patronize this shop.” Her shop now has a rating of 1.5 stars out of five.
The disgruntled reviewers also came for Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan, who has been charged with participating in the Capitol riot. She made headlines when the FBI contended she posted a video of herself at the attempted insurrection, saying, “Y’all know who to hire for your Realtor. Jenna Ryan for your Realtor.” The Yelp page for Ryan’s business has also been temporarily disabled, but not before a few folks wrote reviews informed by the Capitol riot.
“She’s so funny. In fact, I’d say she’s an ABSOLUTE RIOT!!!!” wrote one reviewer named Craig F. “Serious she’s so funny it’s almost CRIMINAL.”
In a more somber assessment, Traci F. wrote, “This woman is a traitor to America and to democracy.”
Unsurprisingly, both were one-star reviews.
It should come as no surprise that this approach often backfires, as evidenced by the real estate agent in Greater Sudbury, Ontario, who shares the alleged rioter’s name and has had to fend people off her business’s Facebook page since Jan. 6.
“You have the wrong Jenna. I'm in Canada,” she says in one post. The reply came quickly: “How unfortunate to have the same name as her. I hope you haven't been harassed too much!! I wish you & your real estate business in Canada much luck through this. It can't be easy! Please know...Us Texans are NOT happy to admit she is from our great state. Can we adopt you in the meantime??”
This strange digital phenomenon occurs across industries for a variety of reasons. Men who seemed to be angry that the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot starred an all-female primary cast flocked to IMDb to give the movie a low rating. It racked up more than 12,000 votes before its release. Last year, PlayStation’s “The Last of Us Part 2” found itself under attack by people who didn’t like its LGBTQ story line. Within seven hours of the release of the game — which takes about 25 to 30 hours to play — it had a 3.4 out of 10 user score on Metacritic, compared with a 9.5/10 critic score. It went on to win Game of the Year, the highest distinction in video games.
Sometimes this sort of review-bombing happens naturally, but it’s often a semi-organized movement.
Consider the Red Hen saga. In 2018, the owner of the Lexington, Va.-based restaurant asked Sarah Sanders to leave in the middle of a meal, saying she felt Trump’s then-spokeswoman worked for an “inhumane and unethical” administration. After both Sanders and Trump blasted the restaurant on social media, negative reviews began rolling in.
Soon, Charlie Kirk, founder of the right-wing organization Turning Point USA, tweeted, “Red Hen restaurant on YELP! has 13,700 negative reviews with a average rating of 2 stars. Would be a shame if another 100,000 reviews would be added. This is the market at work. Don’t force someone to serve another person, but if you refuse, you must accept the consequences.”
As in the Canadian Jenna Ryan’s case, multiple American restaurants bearing the name Red Hen had to “accept the consequences.” One Red Hen in Connecticut saw its Yelp rating drop from a 4.5 to a 2, while its answering machine flooded with angry messages.
Hoffman said there isn’t enough data to pinpoint whether these reviews can have immediate impacts on a business — but many companies are concerned enough to dispute unvetted and unverified reviews, which are often eventually taken down.
Still, it’s a difficult battle for these companies to fight, Hoffman said. “Consumers trust other consumers more than they trust markets or the businesses themselves.”