Yelp Will Allow Users to Report Businesses For Racist Behavior and Will Add a Notification To Those Business Pages

Editor’s Note: This article may contain opinions by our staff. For only Yelp’s facts about this new feature please read their release instead.

Yesterday Yelp announced a new feature for users, the ability to rate a business listed on the site as racist.

The announcement came in the form of a short Twitter thread (embedded below) that linked to their blog post about the feature at the end. The replies to the Twitter thread are full of people speculating how this will be used for political or personal attacks already. Here we’ll discuss the new feature and our point of view on how, while well-intentioned, it could be used to harm your small business.

Earlier this year Yelp laid off or furloughed over 2,000 employees of their nearly 6,000 staff, or roughly 1/3 of their staff. The company has also seen major hits to their core advertising customers (i.e. source of revenue) restaurants, a large percentage (60%)of which have been required to permanently close due to pressure from the pandemic – that data comes from Yelp itself. This paints a picture of a company with more limited resources than normal, creating a feature that they know will require a lot of human moderating from their now reduced team size, during a time when their core paying customers are uncertain about their business future. Marketing writers and analysts have even speculated Yelp may not make it out of the pandemic alive, like Gisella Tran who wrote an article titled “Will Yelp Survive the Coronavirus?” on Medium back in April detailing why she thinks the tech company might collapse.

These facts along with the fact that Yelp has a history of being accused of mistreatment of small businesses and pay-to-play reviews, gives us here at Gain Local great concern that this new feature will be heavily abused by those with nefarious intent and that Yelp will not have the staff capacity or capability to stop that abuse. It is our sincere hope we are wrong, however, if your business gains media attention for any reason you should be aware that this abuse is at least plausible and be ready to defend yourself and your brand from Yelp’s potentially defamatory labeling.

Yelp says this new feature was added because they saw a spike over the summer of 2020 in users reporting racist behavior at local businesses after Yelp added a label for black owned businesses.

The new feature appears to at least partially contradict Yelp’s own previous statements that reviews should be about first-hand experiences (cited in their official blog post) and not based on things like political ideology (cited in their content guidelines). There’s a better than good chance this new feature can be weaponized against a business for promoting a politician, contributing to a PAC, or taking other political activity.

From Yelp’s Content Guidelines:

Relevance: Please make sure your contributions are appropriate to the forum. For example, reviews aren’t the place for rants about political ideologies, a business’s employment practices, extraordinary circumstances, or other matters that don’t address the core of the consumer experience.

Yelp also has a policy against hate speech and bigotry already, which makes the new feature a little odd. If a business is accused of racism or bigotry AND Yelp’s User Operations team is able find that listing, see the evidence in the media, to corroborate that accusation; why wouldn’t they just remove the business for violating this policy instead of adding a defamatory label?

From Yelp’s Content Guidelines:

“Inappropriate content: Colorful language and imagery are fine, but there’s no place for threats, harassment, lewdness, hate speech, or other displays of bigotry.”

We applaud Yelp’s desire to help end racism and to not be a platform for hate, however, there is a good reason for being concerned about this systems abuse and Yelp’s ability to ensure it is not used to hurt small businesses based on inaccurate or made up facts. Historically, Yelp has not been great at allowing real positive reviews, at stopping fake negative reviews, or at supporting the small business communities that have come to rely on them.

References cited:
Small Biz Genius
Yelp’s Official Blog
Yelp’s Content Guidelines
Gisella Tran / Medium