The community review platform Yelp announced Thursday that it will be implementing a feature for consumers to alert Yelp of overtly racist behavior by a business, CNN Business reports.
The platform reported that in the past few months, its employees have seen “a clear need to warn consumers about businesses associated with egregious, racially-charged actions to help people make more informed spending decisions.”
According to Yelp’s official blog, it observed a 617 percent increase in reviews for Black-owned businesses over the summer. After an increased push to support local businesses during the coronavirus and protests surrounding racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Yelp decided to implement the new feature to support their “zero-tolerance policy to racism.”
The new feature allows customers to flag or report a business’ racist behavior. Once there are reviews claiming that a business has shown such behavior, used racist language or portrayed racist symbols, a Public Attention Alert will appear on the business’ Yelp page. The Public Attention Alert then must be verified by Yelp.
In order for a Public Attention Alert to become a Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert, Yelp must be able to find an article that proves the business’ overtly racist action has gained public attention.
“This policy is critical to mitigating fake reviews and maintaining the integrity of content on our platform,” said the writers of Yelp’s Official Blog. “We don’t allow people to leave reviews based on media reports because it can artificially inflate or deflate a business’s star rating,” said the writers of the blog, claiming that all reviews must be based on a first-hand experience by the customer.
The platform said that between late May and late September it authorized more than 450 alerts on businesses that had racism claims regarding Black Lives Matter.
While last year alone Yelp worked to disable almost 600 pages due to fake or misleading reviews, there’s no guarantee the review platform will be able to ensure accuracy with the new feature.
Yelp’s rules on verification are broad, and it’s not clarified what kind of article–whether it has to be from a reputable news source or can be from a community blog–is needed to verify racist actions.
Even if verification guidelines do require a reputable news source such as a town or county paper, it’s unclear what will happen if the town neglects to report on the business’ actions.
If a person already reported racist actions on Yelp, it’s not certain that they’ll turn around and report the issue to their local paper. This could mean that if Yelp only flags racist actions that are big enough to warrant public attention, the platform could be overlooking businesses that may exhibit racist behavior on a smaller scale.
Additionally, even though a plan for verification exists, it remains unclear whether Yelp can prevent the new feature from being manipulated, CNN Business reports.
Yelp launched a number of initiatives to support Black-owned businesses over the summer as well as resources for small businesses to use to actively support inclusivity and anti-bias training into their business.