People take great pleasure in writing negative online restaurant reviews; throw in a dash of current events and a sprinkle of anti-Muslim sentiment, and you have a recipe for a Yelp shitstorm.
The family of Ahman Rahami, the man arrested this morning on suspicion of planting bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey, own a fried chicken restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Prior to the bombings, First American Fried Chicken’s Yelp page had just two reviews and an average 4-and-a-half star rating; users praised the cheap prices and extensive menu that included everything from milkshakes to Jamaican beef patties, with one writing, “Everything from here is amazing and is open till 2am, doesn't get any better!!!”
Since Rahami’s name was released to the press yesterday, more than 300 new reviews have been posted, dragging the restaurant’s overall rating down to one-and-a-half stars; its photo collection is now flooded not with photos of the food, but rather anti-Hillary memes and other images that skew heavily toward the obscene and disturbing.
Visitors to the restaurant’s Yelp page are now greeted with an “Active Cleanup Alert” pop-up explaining that the site is “[working] to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.”
Using Yelp as an outlet for protest is nothing new: Yelpers have frequently used negative reviews to weigh in on high-profile controversies, such as the Indiana pizzeria that refused to cater a same-sex wedding. But there’s a clear line between social protest and disgusting trolling — and posting photos of President Obama eating fried chicken and hateful statements like “you camel jockeys need to go back home” clearly falls into the latter camp.
And while Yelp says its “cleanup process” is in the works, letting such content remain visible for this long sends the message that the company is fine with being used as a platform for such vitriol rather than a site to actually review businesses.