Restaurant-rating powerhouse Yelp unveiled a new policy Thursday to flag businesses accused of racist behavior.
The new feature will flag a business with a "Public Attention Alert" if someone associated with the business is accused of or a target of racism.
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The alert can escalate to a more serious "Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert" in cases with more evidence backing accusations of overt racism from a business. For this alert to be applied, there must be "resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee, such as using overtly racist slurs or symbols," a Yelp spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon. The alert will always link to a "credible media outlet" so users can learn more, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson did not specify what the criteria for media credibility are, nor did the person directly address questions from the Free Beacon regarding punitive measures that could be taken after alerts are dispatched. The spokesperson said the company's top priority remains the welfare of customers. "Our top priority is to ensure the trust and safety of our community and provide users with reliable content to inform their spending decisions, including decisions about whether they’ll be welcome and safe at a particular business," the spokesperson said.
Previous reporting on Yelp indicates that the anonymous nature of the application makes reviews of businesses trend toward negative reactions. Concerned business owners argue they are more likely to receive reviews from dissatisfied customers if they do not pay to advertise through Yelp, though accusations against Yelp of extortion against businesses for advertising have been dismissed in court as baseless.
Businesses' frustrations with Yelp have been magnified by the coronavirus pandemic. Already struggling businesses in Southern California have suffered due to anonymous Yelp reviews accusing restaurants of insufficient coronavirus safety measures. Some advanced safety measures—such as creating outdoor dining spaces and paperless ordering—can have heavy upfront costs.
"We may miss steps of service here and there but we’re constantly trying to pivot to make it safe," one small-business owner told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "If you feel you need to write a Yelp review, first look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘is this going to help this struggling small business?’"