Yesterday, Yelp announced a new initiative that will see alerts placed on business listings when the businesses have been accused of racist behavior. The move comes after Yelp launched a number of initiatives over the summer that helped users find and support Black-owned businesses. In a continuation of that work, Yelp will now place a consumer alert on business pages where the businesses have reportedly engaged in racist behavior.
As you can see from the new consumer alert above, Yelp will warn users that a business has been accused of racist behavior, and while Yelp investigates the allegations, it will suspend the ability for users to post about the business on its listing.
To be clear, it doesn’t seem like anyone can simply accuse the business of racist behavior for the customer alert to be slapped on to its listing. As Yelp explains, accusations must be backed up by news articles, thus providing a degree of verifiability. “If someone associated with a business is accused of, or the target of, racist behavior, we will place a Public Attention Alert on the business page to warn consumers that the business may be receiving an influx of reviews as a result of increased attention,” the company explains. “For businesses accused of overtly racist actions, where we can link to a news article, we will escalate our warning with the Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert.”
What Yelp does not explain is if the news articles it relies on have to come from certain sources and if just one report on the alleged racist behavior is enough. Yelp also doesn’t explain if the news article requires verification of the allegation or if it requires verification of a proven act of racism.
As can be expected, a move such as this has generated heated debate online.
Some have condemned the move:
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) October 9, 2020
Some have praised it:
I honestly can’t believe there are people in the comments actually speaking out against this Yelp feature. It’s combating racism…RACISM!!! It’s something we should ALL be fighting against. People who think otherwise are gross. Thank you Yelp for your effort!
— commentarian (@commentlaureate) October 9, 2020
Some have asked why Yelp doesn’t take it further:
Are you going to alert consumers about businesses like NIKE? Who have slaves making their items…
— samanthamarika (@samanthamarika1) October 9, 2020
And some have just been confused by Yelp’s messaging around the matter:
Hahaha…. It says "communities have always turned to Yelp in reaction to current events…." LOL what? People turn to yelp if their bagel wasn't baked right. Yelp is such a bunch of losers. pic.twitter.com/mB57FP2XVe
— Shawn Morris (@ShawnMorris33) October 9, 2020
Update: Upon contacting Yelp to ask for clarity on the thresholds that must be met in order for a business to be labeled with the new consumer alert, a Yelp spokesperson confirmed that the site will only escalate a Public Attention Alert “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.”
The spokesperson went on to reiterate that businesses that allegedly engage in overtly racist conduct will only be labeled as such “when we can provide a credible news source for consumers to learn more and get a complete picture of the incident.”
In other words, a one-off claim on social media or a blog does not reach Yelp’s threshold for labeling a business as a being accused of racist behavior.