commanderW - 7:55 pm on Oct 2, 2010 (gmt 0)
Yelp was accused of using a similar business model in the San Francisco Bay Area early last year. I had many businesses mentioning to me that after they had gotten reviewed by 'Yelpers', people had come around asking them to pay several hundred dollars a month for advertising, and when they declined, the merchants claimed that all the bad reviews suddenly got moved to the top. (curiously, the law suite against them claimed the exact opposite, that they moved the good reviews to the bottom, and differed on several other points, but what I'm saying here is right from the merchants mouths to me in face to face conversation.). Yelp however, was never accused of actually offering to remove bad reviews in exchange for anything.
There is no doubt that in your case, this is actual extortion. Brazenly offering to take the reviews off for money is proof of guilt, as far as I am concerned.
But concerning the proliferation of user generated content and bad reviews in general, it is new territory. Freedom of speech is at issue as well. And privacy. Remember, if you were to force Google to censor users based on complaints lodged by the business being criticized, and to give their personal info to that business or the courts so they can sue the critisizers for what they say, then someday the very same thing thing could be done to you, and for a reason you would not think particularly justifiable. If you can sue Google or Yelp because someone said something negative and untrue about your business on their forums, then Google or Yelp could sue users who write negative and "untrue" criticisms of Google or Yelp.
It's too bad that people are such undiscerning sheep. One bad review can kill a really great movie. I've seen it. Indeed there are mobs of people who only like and do what other people tell them to do. What they think they see others liking or doing. There are people who won't order a sandwich unless someone else says it's "popular".
Therefore, unscrupulous people take advantage of this process and spread what is essentially digital gossip. Maybe there are some text-book solutions to gossip. If you are truly concerned about these "opinions" and the impact on business, then you might have to hire a professional B.S. artist of your own ; )