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LA Weekly and the Times Both Tackle Issue of Online Influence in the Restaurant World

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The internet's gray area.

Farley Elliott

There’s been increasing conversation online about the often blurred lines between objective restaurant criticism, pay-for-play reviews on popular websites, and outright sponsored content. Most recently, the LA Times dug in at a Yelp event in Glendale meant only for Elite members, where free food and drink helped to ply the masquerading crowd.

It’s an interesting peek behind the curtain at the sometimes secretive Yelp, who have had their own troubles in the past fighting off accusations of boosted restaurant ratings in exchange for advertising dollars. The Times piece speaks with several Elite Yelpers — these are nominated or hand-picked reviewers on the site who gain access to private events and other perks — who flatly acknowledge that they’re treated differently now that they’ve leveled up, speaking openly about the free food, early openings and swag bags handed out by restaurants eager to put on a good face for the app-wielding crowd.

Over at LA Weekly, there’s recently been a lively discussion about social media influencers who are using their online cache to cash in. For restaurants, these influencers (many of whom live on Instagram) offer a better way to promote their own brand, by working with the coveted new media personalities to drive curated content to the feeds of their fans. This content, some of it outright acknowledged as having been sponsored and others less so, exists in a bit of legal gray area, even for the Federal Trade Commission, which ostensibly has purview over such things.

For a well-publicized take on restaurant comps from Eater’s own Montreal editor Ian Harrison on the sometimes delicate topic, head right this way.

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