Well, now we know that fining people won’t work. After the New York Post reported that Chris Wagoner, owner of the Union Street Guest House, a Hudson, N.Y., hotel, wrote a clause into his guest policy asserting the right to charge guests $500 for leaving bad Yelp reviews, a special kind of Internet chaos ensued: The story got picked up on other websites, and offended readers—most of whom had never visited the hotel—rushed to vent. On Yelp. Wagoner issued a comment in the middle of the day to say the policy was a joke, but this failed to stem the tide.

Wagoner is hardly the first merchant targeted with this sort of malice. In June an Australian pop star encouraged her Twitter followers to leave bad reviews for her local dry cleaner. A year ago, New York State’s attorney general levied $350,000 in fines against 19 local businesses that had written fake reviews of their businesses.

Bad reviews from anonymous commenters can inspire rage—and give rise to some crazy revenge strategies. But if threatening patrons who give negative feedback isn’t kosher, what’s left?

Yelp deletes comments that don’t adhere to its guidelines, which state that reviews “should be unbiased and objective.” About 3,000 reviews for the Union Street Guest House have been erased.

To avoid similar situations, here’s a condensed version of the experts’ best advice: Ask customers to leave online reviews, but don’t ask them to sugarcoat feedback. Responding to bad reviews is a good idea, but take a deep breath and don’t make a personal issue out of negative feedback. The best is approach is to remain polite and open to criticism.

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