Customer review app Yelp has announced it will place alerts on businesses that have been accused in the media of racist behaviour, earning the applause of some social justice experts ― and the scorn of numerous conservatives, and some entrepreneurs, who say the new system is ripe for abuse.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, “searches for Black-owned businesses surged on Yelp, [but] so did the volume of reviews warning users of racist behavior at businesses,” Yelp said in a blog post Thursday.

“Today, in response to this, we will now place a distinct Consumer Alert on business pages to caution people about businesses that may be associated with overtly racist actions.”

While Yelp’s move drew applause from many prominent people, including some entrepreneurs, it drew the ire of others, including some conservatives and small business owners, who worry the Yelp alert will be “weaponized” to destroy businesses with false accusations of racism.

Some prominent right-wing commentators, like Michelle Malkin, urged people to “cancel Yelp before it cancels your business.”

Some accused Yelp of hypocrisy, noting the company itself has faced accusations of racism in the recent past.

Others predict the policy could trigger a bonanza of lawsuits.

Within hours of Yelp’s announcement, there were those who declared their intentions to frustrate the app’s new policy. Some announced plans to make false accusations of racism against restaurants indiscriminately, while others urged their fellow social media users to report “anti-white racism” in campus dining halls to Yelp.

However, these tactics are unlikely to gain much traction, because Yelp’s policy, as laid out on its blog Thursday, states that it will put up those alerts when allegations of racism against a restaurant appear in the news or go viral on social media, not simply when users leave a review accusing an establishment of racist behaviour. 

“Yelp’s User Operations team already places alerts on business pages when we notice an unusual uptick in reviews that are based on what someone may have seen in the news or on social media, rather than on a first-hand experience with the business,” Yelp said on its 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.”

Amid the heated political drama over the move, some pointed out there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about false accusations against businesses. Fake claims on Yelp have in the past done damage to businesses ― just as businesses have sometimes sued Yelp users over negative reviews.

And then there were those who pointed out that alerting the public to places where racism is acceptable could backfire in other ways …

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