Is Yelp right to warn consumers about “racist” businesses?
- Yelp is a company dedicated to the review of local businesses. It is a unique platform for consumers to “discover, connect, and transact” with companies of all sizes.
- As of October 12, Yelp will alert customers whenever a business is accused of racist behavior.
- This year, the media has increased Yelp reviews by 133%, and between May 26 and September 30, the company had placed alerts on 450 businesses.
- Protests and civil unrest erupted across the United States after the death of George Floyd on May 25. Experts claim that his death was the catalyst for change although the pandemic has “further exacerbated” the political climate.
Considering the recent US protests, the online search directory and review site Yelp introduced 'racism alerts' to flag businesses with racist behavior complaints. While these actions are well-intentioned, it will be limited in its effectiveness practically. One of the biggest concerns raised by policy advocates and subject matter experts at NYT, CNN, and VoxMedia remains unresolved: How will the company enforce such a massive initiative? Over the past few years, the website has already battled fake reviews, revenge complaints, and other harmful malpractices. How will the company manage a whole new set of guidelines and their subsequent offenders with hundreds of pending cases? Companies, like Google and Facebook, themselves grapple with moderating the quality and ethical impact of the content posted online. Yelp, being much smaller and employing fewer moderators, will find it harder to implement such an ambitious policy. Donald Trump Jr. warns, 'What are the odds that this isn't insanely abused?'
Abuse is immediately proven when incidents such as these arise: a customer accused a London pub manager of calling them a racist slur, but the incident had occurred at a different pub. Management reported the inaccurate complaint to Yelp, but the bad review still lives on the company's page. The Britannia pub supervisor, Simon Duchon, rightfully critiques how one negative comment could destroy a whole business as 'Yelp [notices] could continue to harm businesses even after they had taken steps to address racist incidents.' Another problem lies in the process of flagging businesses. Yelp never elaborates on which news outlets they would consider credible or how they define 'resounding evidence.' Yelp should stay out of the social justice fray, where accusations have real-world ramifications, including looting, arson, and vandalism.
Yelp is following national sentiment by putting racists on notice. After a summer of BLM protests, it makes sense for a tech company to use its vast network of power to work toward progress. The nation is moving toward a more equitable future, and it makes sense for big tech businesses that are so ubiquitous in our lives to follow suit. Yelp reviews of Black-owned businesses were up 617% this year, proof of a sea change in public thinking. Internet users can rest assured that Yelp's new racist labels will be fair and that the system will not be abused because a team of human moderators will be adding the labels. This will eliminate the possibility of trolls or other bad actors using the system to hurt a business. Furthermore, the label will include a link to a credible news article so readers can see that the determination was made based on real events.
People rely on Yelp for information about the quality of food, products, and services a business provides; it makes sense they would get information about safety and racial justice. These reviews will help people avoid potential racial incidents or avoid supporting businesses that are not in line with their own thinking. More people are 'voting with their wallets,' avoiding businesses with histories of racist behavior, and this places Yelp in a unique position to help them. Yelp has made a great step forward by announcing it will label some businesses as racist. This is in line with the country's thinking, will be safeguarded from bad actors, and will be a very useful service for users.