Yelp will now warn customers that they’re looking at a “business accused of racist behavior”—just so long as it’s been racist enough to warrant a mention in the news.
The review platform announced in a blog post Thursday that it will place an alert on a business page when a business “gains public attention” such as a news article documenting “egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee, such as using overtly racist language or symbols.” Previously, Yelp implemented a “Public Attention Alert” feature that informed visitors that a business may be at the center of a controversy involving racism, but that alert didn’t specify whether the business was the source of the bigoted behavior or the target.
“As the nation reckons with issues of systemic racism, we’ve seen in the last few months that there is a clear need to warn consumers about businesses associated with egregious, racially-charged actions to help people make more informed spending decisions,” VP of user operations Noorie Malik wrote in the post. “Now, when a business gains public attention for reports of racist conduct, such as using racist language or symbols, Yelp will place a new Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert on their Yelp page to inform users, along with a link to a news article where they can learn more about the incident.”
That’s a pretty high bar for restricting the page—reporters aren’t out there running down every business flying a Confederate flag. Yelp also said it was hoping to rein in review-bombing, in which large numbers of users who may have no personal experience with a business leave negative reviews in response to a well-publicized incident. The new version of the popup tells users that while Yelp believes racism is “reprehensible and has no place on Yelp,” it will temporarily disable reviews while a business is in a news to preserve the integrity of firsthand reviews.
According to Yelp, the move is designed to alert consumers that they may face racist behavior or be unintentionally endorsing it if they lend a flagged business their patronage. Malik wrote in the post that Yelp had seen significant surges in accounts of bigoted behavior by businesses in 2020, related to nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
“So far in 2020, we’ve seen a 133% increase in the number of media-fueled incidences on Yelp compared to the same time last year,” Malik wrote. “Between May 26 and September 30, we placed more than 450 alerts on business pages that were either accused of, or the target of, racist behavior related to the Black Lives Matter movement.”
According to CBS, Yelp will remove the alerts after 90 days, assuming the issue has been resolved.
Review-bombing has long plagued the business review site. The New York Times noted that in 2018, a prominent Islamophobic Twitter user was unmasked by the Huffington Post, leading to a Brooklyn restaurant co-owned by the Twitter user’s brother being bombarded with one-star reviews on Yelp. The owners of the restaurant said they rarely saw the woman in question. According to the process described in Yelp’s blog post, the review site will only add the racism alert when allegations of such behavior are vetted by a credible news source, though it didn’t go into further detail.
Businesses have also been review bombed in the other direction by the kind of extremely online conservative who hears someone in a MAGA hat was denied service, believes that is exactly like racism, and becomes enraged. That was exactly the case with a Canadian restaurant in 2018, the same year review bombs hit D.C.-area restaurant The Red Hen for refusing to serve then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.