Yelp's new consumer-alert tool about racist businesses gets mixed reactions: 'Smear-enabling conduct'

Kerry Justich
·5 mins read
Yelp is taking a stand against racism with new consumer alert. (Photo: Yelp)
Yelp is taking a stand against racism with a new consumer alert. (Photo: Yelp)

Yelp is taking a stance against racism with the introduction of new consumer alerts in response to heightened activity around Black-owned businesses and those accused of discrimination.

The website dedicated to crowdsourced reviews of businesses announced the Public Attention alert and Business Accused of Racist Behavior alert on Thursday in a blog post that sparked mixed reactions — including from those expressing concern over the site’s trust in reviews written by anybody with an account. Yelp tells Yahoo Life that its new developments will help to improve the reliability of published reviews by investigating dramatic increases in activity and even accusations of racist behavior.

“Our top priority is to ensure the trust and safety of our community and provide users with reliable content to inform their spending decisions,” a Yelp spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, “including decisions about whether they’ll be welcome and safe at a particular business.”

In order to do so, the company has put consumer alerts in place to allow Yelp to do the necessary vetting in response to spikes in reviews that can come from people who haven’t even had firsthand experience at the business, but instead are reacting to attention that it has received in the media. Hence, the installment of the Public Attention alert, which will inform any visitor on a particular business’s Yelp page that the reviews may be a result of increased attention instead of specific firsthand experiences.

Users will receive a Public Attention Alert when businesses experience increased activity. (Photo: Yelp)
Users will receive a Public Attention alert when businesses experience increased activity. (Photo: Yelp)

“When a business makes the news, people often come to the business’s Yelp page to express their views. We have signals in place that will flag if a business page is seeing an unusual increase in activity,” the spokesperson explains. “Our team of moderators will investigate and temporarily disable content as we place an alert on the business’s page to warn users that some of these reviews may not be based on firsthand experiences. After we’ve seen activity dramatically decrease or stop, we will then clean up the page so that only firsthand consumer experiences are reflected. Alerts can appear for days or several weeks and is determined on a case-by-case basis once user activity has decreased.”

According to Yelp’s blog post, this alert directly aligns with Yelp’s policy that all reviews must be based on firsthand experiences. “This policy is critical to mitigating fake reviews and maintaining the integrity of content on our platform,” the blog post reads. “We don’t allow people to leave reviews based on media reports because it can artificially inflate or deflate a business’s star rating.”

Yelp introduces a new consumer alert in response to racist accusations toward businesses. (Photo: Yelp)
Yelp introduces a new consumer alert in response to racist accusations toward businesses. (Photo: Yelp)

This acts as a safeguard for businesses accused of racist behavior, as Yelp explains that it will default to a Public Attention alert if an incident involving racism occurs. “We’ll only escalate 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 says.

Some people expressing concerns have questioned whether sharing a news article is enough and expect that reviewers can take advantage of the feature.

However, Yelp is standing by user data that informed the initiatives. “We value diversity, inclusion and belonging, both internally and on our platform, which means we have a zero tolerance policy to racism. We know these values are important to our users and now more than ever, consumers are increasingly conscious of the types of businesses they patronize and support,” the blog announcement reads. “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.”

Despite some backlash, people continue to praise the company for condemning all and any instances of racism.

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