Starting today, Yelp will display warnings if restaurants and other businesses are associated with racist conduct, the review platform announced on its blog.
The change comes amid ongoing protests and bolstered advocacy against racism, anti-Blackness, and police brutality, sparked in part by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black people this year. Yelp reviews mentioning Black-owned businesses increased more than 617 percent this summer compared to last year, vice president of user operations Noorie Malik wrote in the blog post. “While searches for Black-owned businesses surged on Yelp, so did the volume of reviews warning users of racist behavior at businesses.” According to the company, between May 26 and September 30, it flagged more than 450 businesses that were accused of, or the target of, racist behavior related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Increasingly, consumers across the U.S. are voting with their dollars by supporting businesses that align with their values,” wrote Malik. “As always, we continue to evaluate how we can best use our platform to build a better, more equitable and inclusive environment where consumers and businesses can interact safely and fully informed.”
Yelp has already used “consumer alerts” — warning if a business’s ratings show evidence of manipulation or unusual activity — since 2012. For example, when a business gets “review bombed” with ratings as a result of a news event or media attention, rather than actual first-hand customer experiences, the ability to post reviews is temporarily disabled. Now, when a business gets lifted into the public spotlight for reports of “overtly racist” behavior, its page will be flagged with a “Business Accused of Racist Behavior” alert, along with a link to a news story about the conduct in question. Reviews will also be temporarily disabled with these alerts.
Where the platform could potentially run into difficulty is adjudicating what exactly constitutes “racist behavior,” a question whose answer may vary wildly depending on whom one asks. (For instance, could right-wing news sites attempt to argue that displaying Black Lives Matter flags is racially discriminatory?)
But, while the guidelines for this arbitration are sure to be a constant evolution, for now Yelp is publicly aligning itself firmly with Black Lives Matter and the racial justice movement, telling Eater that Yelp’s definition of “racially-charged actions” includes “the use of racist language, symbols or sentiment that clearly discredits the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“We unequivocally reject racism, whether it’s happening on or off the platform,” a company spokesperson said. Yelp’s full statement is as follows:
Maintaining the trust consumers have in Yelp is a top priority. 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.
We unequivocally reject racism, whether it’s happening on or off the platform. Our Public Attention Alerts protect businesses that may find themselves the victim of racism when consumers storm their business page with reviews, or they may find themselves in the crosshairs if a customer behaves inappropriately. Now, we’re taking a firmer stance against racism with the Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert that will be placed when we learn of reports of egregious, racially-charged actions such as the use of racist language, symbols or sentiment that clearly discredits the Black Lives Matter movement. This alert will always include a news article associated with public allegations so our users can learn more.