- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2020

Yelp is planning to brand businesses that receive negative attention and allegations of racist discrimination with a warning label on its platform, which hosts crowdsourced reviews of businesses, restaurants and other venues.

Called a “Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert,” the warning will be represented by an icon consisting of a white exclamation mark inside a scarlet red circle.

“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,” wrote Noorie Malik, Yelp vice president of operations, on the company’s blog. “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’s user operations team already displays alerts on its platform when a surge of negative reviews corresponds with something in the news or on social media. The new changes are in direct response to Black Lives Matter protesters affecting the way businesses function in 2020.

“The new Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert is an extension of our Public Attention Alert that we introduced in response to a rise in social activism surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement,” Ms. Malik wrote. “If someone associated with a business is accused of, or the target of, racist behavior, we will place a Public Attention Alert on the business page to warn consumers that the business may be receiving an influx of reviews as a result of increased attention. For businesses accused of overtly racist actions, where we can link to a news article, we will escalate our warning with the Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert.”

Yelp’s vetting process for allegations of racism is not tied to the veracity of the complaint. Ms. Malik wrote that Yelp’s policy means all reviews must be based on “actual first-hand consumer experiences” and not pointing to news reports or reviews elsewhere online.

Yelp did not say whether businesses would be able to appeal the label. A Yelp spokesperson told The Washington Times that its moderators would handle the investigations of racism and the moderators will “temporarily disable content” while completing their investigations.

The Yelp spokesperson said the alerts may last “for days or several weeks” and are determined on a case-by-case basis.

“When an incident involving racism occurs, we will default to a general Public Attention Alert to inform consumers if someone associated with the business was accused of, or the target of, racist behavior,” a Yelp spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”

Yelp did not say which media outlets it views as credible authorities on racism.

To explain to businesses how it views racism, Yelp has partnered with Open to All to create a 60-minute “unlearning bias training video” and a toolkit for businesses to use to build an inclusive community. Open to All is a coalition of racial justice and civil rights groups focused on a national “nondiscrimination campaign” to change the way Americans do business.

Yelp said it has partnered with My Black Receipt, which asks customers to upload receipts from purchases at Black-owned businesses on its website, and has seen reviews of Black-owned businesses rise more than 600% on Yelp from the summer of 2020 compares to the previous summer.

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