It is Enough to Make One Yelp By Bruce Bennett

         Wow, this has been called a coming of the Chinese style “social credit” system. It is really unfortunate that that name was chosen, but there are no accidents so I suppose this was an attack on Douglas social credit as well. It is called the poisoning of the well.

“Yelp, a company whose entire business is predicated on crowdsourced reviews about other businesses. Like many other tech firms caught up in the currents of the heightened climate of political activism, Yelp has decided to take a stance against racism by enabling a feature that they claim would arm consumers with information about businesses associated with ‘egregious, racially-charged actions’ to help people make ‘more informed spending decisions.’

In reality, Yelp is introducing a rudimentary social credit system that subjects business owners to the vagaries of the culture wars. No stranger to controversy, Yelp has previously been embroiled in lawsuits alleging that it forced companies to pay for advertising on its platform and withheld positive reviews as leverage until they gave in.

Yelp is well aware of its own power to make or break businesses. Research shows that higher Yelp ratings lead to higher sales, and that this effect is greater for independent restaurants as opposed to chains whose reputations tend to be more well-established. This, combined with the fact that opting out of Yelp is professional suicide for any business who wants to succeed in an increasingly online world, propels many owners to grudgingly participate on Yelp’s platform as a necessary cost of doing business.

Prior to this announcement, weaponized Yelp reviews were already a well-known phenomenon plaguing both sides of the political aisle. When it was reported that the owner of the Red Hen, a small bistro in Lexington, Virginia, had asked then White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her family to leave the establishment due to her association with the Trump administration, the restaurant’s Yelp page received thousands of fraudulent one-star reviews. This was met with a backlash of anti-Trump supporters’ five-star reviews, transforming the bistro’s Yelp page into a political battleground.

By injecting an official notice based on no more than an accusation of racist behavior, Yelp is enhancing the perverse incentives to weaponize its reviews. There is simply no way to tell if a business is the victim of false accusations, especially given the frenzied pace of social media pile-ons. For an industry that runs on razor-thin margins, every day that a restaurant’s reputation is sullied is a day that edges it closer to financial ruin. Just look to the case of Gibson’s Bakery, which won a libel suit over Oberlin College for false accusations and reputational damage. After the bakery owners caught a handful of black students attempting to steal liquor and gave chase, student activists framed the entire incident as a racial aggravation and organized, with the help of the university, sweeping protests against and online campaigns to boycott the small, 134-year old family-owned bakery.”

         Racism is sure big business now.



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Wednesday, 17 August 2022