The review site says the alerts will “always link to a news article from a credible media outlet so users can learn more.”

By Mike Pomranz
October 09, 2020
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Credit: Thomas Trutschel / Contributor/Getty Images

Many inquisitive diners already turn to Yelp to determine where to find the best burgers or double-check if that pizza joint is as good as a coworker advertised. But Yelp also provides more serious information like health inspection scores or, in the COVID-era, a list of which additional safety measures are being taken. And now, in a new feature announced this week, Yelp will even alert users if a restaurant has been accused of racist behavior.

In a statement on Yelp’s official blog, Noorie Malik, vice president of user operations, explained that “reviews mentioning Black-owned businesses were up more than 617 percent this summer compared to last summer,” an uptick almost certainly in response to this year’s continued growth in the Black Lives Matter movement. But Malik continues, “While searches for Black-owned businesses surged on Yelp, so did the volume of reviews warning users of racist behavior at businesses.”

To help address this issue, Yelp has created a new customer alert—an exclamation mark in a red circle with the heading “Business Accused of Racist Behavior.”

Yelp's Racist Behavior Alert
| Credit: Yelp

“Yelp’s User Operations team already places alerts on business pages when we notice an unusual uptick in reviews that are based on what someone may have seen in the news or on social media, rather than on a first-hand experience with the business,” Malik explains. “Now, when a business gains public attention for reports of racist conduct, such as using racist language or symbols, Yelp will place a new Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert on their Yelp page to inform users, along with a link to a news article where they can learn more about the incident.”

Yelp states that the site has seen a 133 percent increase in this kind of media-driven activity in 2020, and over the past four months, the company has already alerted customers to these situations over 450 times. So the new Racist Behavior Alert is basically a more specific extension to a program that’s already gotten plenty of use.

Additionally, the review site suggests that the benefits of these alerts are twofold—not only letting potential customers know if “they’ll be welcome and safe at a particular business,” but also maintaining the integrity of a restaurant’s rating by flagging situations where “reviewers” are breaking Yelp’s policy that all feedback has to be based on first-hand experiences.

Of course, naysayers may retort that creating a specific racist behavior tag could potentially exacerbate the problem if troublemakers wanted to further target a business. However, a Yelp spokesperson emphasized that the site defaults to “Public Attention Alert” in most situations. “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 told me via email.

Yelp's Public Attention Alert
| Credit: Yelp

“Increasingly, consumers across the U.S. are voting with their dollars by supporting businesses that align with their values,” Malik concluded. “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.”