Review website Yelp has announced a feature for North America that will create alerts for businesses accused of racist behaviour.
Flagging a restaurant would require evidence in the form of public attention, a large number of reviews and verification from a credible news outlet.
In a statement from Yelp, VP of User Operations Noorie Malik said: “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.”
Whenever a restaurant receives an abnormally large number of reviews, Yelp’s moderators investigate, normally alerting users that the reviews may not be accurate or unbiased. This frequently happens in reaction to a business being mentioned on social media or in the news.
Under the new system, when a restaurant is flagged for racism, Yelp will issue a Public Attention Alert stating that the business was accused of, or the target of, racist behaviour.
The venue will receive a Business Accused of Racist Behaviour Alert “when there’s resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee, such as using overtly racist slurs or symbols,” a company statement said.
The alert will temporarily disable reviews for that business.
The new alerts will not be applied retroactively and will only be used during new upswings in review activity.
“So far in 2020, we’ve seen a 133% increase in the number of media-fuelled incidences on Yelp compared to the same time last year. Between May 26 and September 30, we placed more than 450 alerts on business pages that were either accused of, or the target of, racist behaviour related to the Black Lives Matter movement,” the statement added.
- Leader Insights | The power of community with Alice Zagury, The Family
- Leader Insights | Driving diversity in tech with Priya Guha, Merian Ventures
- Venues must hold personal data under new contact tracing rules
The move has brought criticism from two sides – one saying the alerts will stifle free speech and are open to abuse, with others saying that the move does not go far enough. Since the alerts require a mass of evidence and verification from the media, it makes smaller, more easily deniable actions harder to flag.
For many restaurants, shops and other services, Yelp can be a powerful tool. Nearly half of all customers check Yelp before deciding on using a business, second only to Google. For each star received, it is estimated a venue makes around 9% more revenue.
Yelp has struggled with fake reviews, introducing strict policies to prevent them. Over 580 businesses had consumer alerts place on them for reasons ranging from reviews artificially inflating their rating to backlashes, positive or negative, due to media events.
“Yelp’s top priority is to ensure the trust and safety of our users and provide them with reliable content to inform their spending decisions, including decisions about whether they’ll be welcome and safe at a particular business,” the statement said.
“We advocate for personal expression and provide a platform that encourages people to share their experience online, but at the same time it’s always been Yelp’s policy that all reviews must be based on actual first-hand consumer experiences with the business.”