What do you usually look for when you want a new restaurant to try? Maybe somewhere close to you, with a good menu, a nice ambience, affordable prices, and in the COVID-19 era, plenty of outdoor space? For years, Yelp has been the go-to directory for details on which of your local businesses might have these amenities. When you visit a Yelp page, you can usually find photos, ratings and reviews, operating hours, what measures a business may be taking to stop the spread of COVID-19, and a variety of other information depending on business type — but now, you’ll also be alerted if the business is racist.
In an announcement today, Yelp revealed that it would place a new kind of consumer alert on business pages when there’s “resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee,” according to the announcement post on Yelp’s official blog. It will apply to situations where there’s been considerable media attention on the business that’s led to a flood of reviews regarding the alleged racism. At this point, Yelp will first issue a Public Attention Alert informing consumers of these allegations and why there’s been recent attention on the business.
Once it discovers evidence that the accusations of racism have merit, it will escalate to a Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert. New reviews will temporarily be disabled. According to Yelp, it “already places alerts on business pages when we notice an unusual uptick in reviews that are based on what someone may have seen in the news or on social media, rather than on a first-hand experience with the business.”
In general, Yelp’s consumer alerts are used to let people know when there’s unusual activity on the business page’s — not just a sudden increase in reviews due to media attention, but several reviews coming from one IP address, or evidence of reviews being purchased. Now, there’s simply a new alert category specific to accusations of racism.
“Maintaining the trust consumers have in Yelp is a top priority,” a Yelp spokesperson told Refinery29 over email. “To that end, we take measures to protect the integrity of the content on our platform, and level the playing field for hard working business owners who rightfully earn their great reputation.”
Racism has remained at the forefront of the national conversation this year, and there are many people who understandably wouldn’t want their money going to a business with ties to white supremacy. This new alert type was created in response to “a rise in social activism surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement,” according to Yelp’s blog post. Yelp notes that between May 26th and September 30th, more than 450 business pages received a consumer alert either because they were accused of racism or were the target of racism due to the Black Lives Matter protests. In June, Yelp also rolled out a new search tool to find Black-owned businesses, in collaboration with MyBlackReceipt.
“We unequivocally reject racism, whether it’s happening on or off the platform,” the Yelp spokesperson said. They clarified that racist behavior could include “use of racist language, symbols or sentiment that clearly discredits the Black Lives Matter movement.” The spokesperson also noted, “This alert will always include a news article associated with public allegations so our users can learn more."
So far, the online reaction to the new racism alert has been heated — many are praising the move, and many are claiming it’s somehow an example of authoritarian policing that will be weaponized to smear innocent people. It’s important to emphasize that Yelp itself is not making accusations of racism. The alert simply lets people know that there’s been recent attention surrounding the business, and that the controversy is due to claims of racist behavior. It isn’t an automated process, either. Yelp’s User Operations team investigates each case of unusual activity before determining which kind of consumer alert most accurately describes the recent flux of activity. The more you know!