I know a lot of people who won’t trust Yelp reviews. The reasons vary: People may be smart, but the public is dumb, and they criticize for stupid reasons. Libelous business owners flock to the site to smear their competition. Others get every relative and friend to praise them, making their rank suspect. The list goes on and on.

yelp-review-filter11But one of the most damaging rumors alleges that Yelp actually gets involved and helps or hinders a shop’s reputation, based on whether it advertises on the site.

The Yelp extortion rumors have been making the rounds for a while, but more fuel was added to the fire when several outspoken business owners got press recently from places like the Los Angeles Times, Business Insider and The Washington Post. Many of the claims involved Yelp’s filtering process, as the accusers alleged that the site manipulated the reviews for their own gain.

Seems the company has had enough. On Wednesday, Yelp PR guru Vince Sollitto came out and addressed the issue head on in a blog post that denied the accusations.

“Ironically, it stems from Yelp’s efforts to protect consumers from those who are constantly trying to game the system. Yelp uses automated software to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews from among the millions submitted. Those that don’t make the grade — about 20 percent — are posted to a separate “Filtered Review” page. So, in trying to prevent unethical wrongdoing on Yelp, Yelp gets accused of the same.”

But, he acknowledges, the filters aren’t infallible.

“One downside of having automated software screen more than 39 million reviews is that some perfectly legitimate reviews are inevitably caught in the filter. This is the price we have to pay given the reality of efforts to mislead consumers.”

Will that be enough to finally quell the rumors? Probably not. Nothing short of full disclosure of Yelp’s secretive filtering process may be enough to appease the critics. The company has been sued a number of times, and there’s even a website called Yelp-sucks.com, which is a lightning rod for angry, despondent entrepreneurs who say to have been burned by the site.

Those user reviews can definitely make or break small businesses, so it’s understandable why there’s a demand for transparency. But both sides make compelling arguments. According to Yelp, if the algorithms and filtering process were known, people would be able to use the info to “game” the system.

What’s your take on Yelp? Have you seen any businesses unfairly harmed by it, or do you put your stock in those reviews? Let us know whether or not you trust Yelp ratings in the comments. If you’re not sure, then check out The Washington Post‘s eye-opening coverage in the video below and see if that clarifies things for you.