Yelp Moves the Venn Diagram

Robert Brooks Contributor
Yelp Moves the Venn Diagram
Read Time: approx. 2:45

This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on October 12, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up. Photo Credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Yelp Inc.

This past week, review website Yelp announced that it will warn consumers when a business has been reported for racist behavior. According to the company, it will only add this alert to a business page “when there’s resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee.” In a Thursday statement the San-Francisco-based company said “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.” We decided to highlight this story because for the first time in what feels like a long time there were overlapping concerns about Yelp’s new policy from both sides of the political spectrum. Take a look:

On the Left: Jenny Gross of the New York Times said, “Yelp’s announcement raised questions about how the company would enforce the initiative — and how it would ensure that businesses were not falsely associated with racism or the target of defamatory reviews, which can significantly damage a business.”

On the Right: Jean Schindler of The National Interest agrees, adding that small businesses have the most to lose. Schindler asks: “Will McDonald’s — [which is] currently embroiled in a lawsuit with former franchise owners alleging racial discrimination — get slapped with an alert? Unlikely. Labels will, however, injure the small business owner who depends on digital platforms for exposure. It will hit the entrepreneur. A few seconds of unfortunate—and often slanted—Twitter footage is often sufficient to generate an article in a regional or local paper.”

On the Left: Tim Carman of the Washington Post, says “So far, the new alert has been placed on only a couple of businesses’ accounts, out of more than 5 million active local businesses claimed on the platform. One was the page of a New York attorney caught on video threatening to call US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to a Manhattan restaurant because workers there were speaking Spanish.” Carman then notes that “story is more than two years old.”

On the Right: Writing for the Post Millennial, Libby Emmons says “All it would take is one dissenting competitor of any business to tar and pixelated feather a business and its owner right into bankruptcy.”

The Left, Quoting the Right: Carman of the Washington Post adds: “Yelp’s new alert may be one of the few instances in which liberals and conservatives share at least some common ground. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Friday, “What are the odds that this isn’t insanely abused?”

Flag This: Did every single outlet agree with the concerns above? Absolutely not. CBS, CNN, and NBC covered Yelp’s update but kept most of their reporting to quotes from the company’s press release. These left-leaning outlets didn’t elaborate on the potential problems that the New York Times, Washington Post, and others touched on above. At the same time, there were right-leaning outlets who amplified the doubts they have about Yelp’s decision mostly through more exaggerated word-choice and phrasing. Hot Air sarcastically titled their piece: “Great news: Yelp will only rely on ‘resounding evidence’ for labeling businesses as racist.” The Daily Wire called it “Orwellian” and the Washington Examiner said, “Cancel Culture” was moving to Yelp. Generally, the way stories like these tend to be covered is in two circles that hardly, if ever, overlap to form a Venn Diagram. The Yelp story pushed these two circles closer together which is neither-here-nor-there. It was simply interesting to analyze, especially during what has been such an extremely divided time for journalism.