Yelp's new racism alert is raising concerns among many who see it as a threat to business owners who will be living in fear of losing their livelihoods due to false accusations.
In an announcement on Thursday, Yelp said it will begin alerting users when customers accuse a business or an employee of racism by sending out a “Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert.” The new protocol went into effect last week.
"Now business owners everywhere have to live in fear of a false accusation of racism, accepted and magnified on Yelp, that could destroy their livelihoods," said Christian author Rod Dreher.
The new feature also received strong condemnation from Spectator USA's New York Editor Melissa Chen who described it as coming out of the Communist Party's playbook.
"Already, in response to Yelp’s statement, an Antifa group has put out a call to its followers to begin compiling a list of businesses guilty of showing sympathy for the police or that stand against the Black Lives Matter movement," said Chen, who describes herself as a religious liberty advocate and atheist.
If someone accuses a business of racism, Yelp’s website will show consumers a “Public Attention Alert” to notify them that someone associated with the business did or said something racist.
The Public Attention Alert will appear automatically after someone accuses a business. Yelp said the company would review all Public Attention Alerts in an attempt to ensure the complaints were "first-hand consumer" accounts.
Following a Yelp review of the circumstances, the website said it might display the “Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert” to customers. Yelp’s blog also said the alert will link to a news article from what it deems as being a credible media outlet to substantiate its labeling. The blog doesn't say how the company will determine whether an article is credible. It also doesn't say what Yelp will do if an accusation of racism has not been reported on by a media source.
“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,” said Yelp Communications Manager Jackie Berté in an interview with The Christian Post.
This specific alert only addresses racist behavior, added Berté. It doesn’t include behavior deemed discriminatory toward other groups.
"We’ll only escalate to a Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert when there’s resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee, such as using overtly racist slurs or symbols; and this alert will always link to a news article from a credible media outlet so users can learn more," a Yelp spokesperson said. "Incidents that warrant this escalated alert are extremely rare. Furthermore, if a business takes public corrective action, as an example, the termination of an offending employee, it would not warrant a Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert."
Businesses accused of racism can experience sudden customer losses. Minor league baseball team the Portland Sea Dogs and several other businesses stopped buying from one Maine ice cream shop after the shop received one accusation of racism.
Berté did not comment on whether Yelp would compensate businesses mistakenly labeled with a racist behavior alert. She also did not say whether businesses accused of racism would receive any other penalties besides the alert.
Over the summer, Yelp started several initiatives to help users patronize black-owned businesses. To do so, the company partnered with activist groups My Black Receipt and the 15% Pledge, both dedicated to buying products based on the skin color of the seller. Yelp now adds a “Black-owned Business” attribute to some companies on its site.
“At Yelp, we value diversity, inclusion and belonging, both internally and on our platform, which means we have a zero-tolerance policy to racism,” the Yelp blog said.
The new option to label businesses “racist” comes at a time when Yelp’s own statistics show a high concern about race. This summer, reviews for businesses labeled “Black-owned” rose by 617% compared to last summer. From May 26 to Sept. 30, Yelp received 450 alerts accusing businesses of racism or reporting racist incidents, according to Yelp’s blog.
Yelp's new system could be misused by competitors or activists, however. Currently, there is no way to tell if a business is the victim of false accusations.
As reported by The Spectator, Yelp reviews often become the sight of political battles. First, businesses get embroiled in a political argument. Then, people who dislike their politics attack by going on Yelp to spam them with low reviews.
Yelp calls these kinds of politics-generated reviews "media-fueled." 2020 saw their numbers doubled. As a service, Yelp depends on consumers to visit and rate businesses. However, when a business gets negative media attention, it could face a deluge of bad reviews from angry people online. Yelp said it tries to take note of media-generated reviews and keep them from affecting a business’ operation.
Some businesses have accused Yelp of attempting to bully them into paying the company money, according to CBC News. In these instances, Yelp hid positive reviews until small businesses paid it advertising money.
Yelp offers an option for businesses to activate an Open to All attribute on their pages. The number of searches for “Open to All” on Yelp has skyrocketed, growing by more than five times this year. Yelp said owners should activate the attribute, sign a pledge on the Open to All website and buy a $10 window sign from the site.
“The Open to All attribute allows your business to distinguish itself as a safe and welcoming place to everyone — regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression,” Yelp’s description of the attribute said.
Chen compared Yelp's racism reporting feature to China's social credit system. In Communist China, the government ranks peoples' behavior with "points." If you don't have enough points, you can lose access to train or plane tickets, banking, medical care, university and jobs. People can also lose points for associating with other people with low points.