Yelp looks to promote Asian-owned businesses through a new tool, but it might just end up aiding racists instead
Social media users are calling out the company for helping make it easier for people to target Asian businesses. Do the claims have merit?
On Tuesday, April 6, Yelp introduced a new tool that would help promote Asian-owned businesses on the platform. The platform is giving businesses the opportunity to self-identify as 'Asian-owned', making it a searchable attribute for users of the crowd-sourced app. The company believes the move will help promote Asian business and drive change as hate crimes against Asians are on a rapid rise.
In a tweet announcing the feature, Yelp said, "Patronizing Asian-owned businesses is one small step we can all take to drive meaningful change and create lasting impact". The feature is entirely optional for businesses, much like the Black, Latinx or women-owned attributes the company has rolled out in the past.
Many are hailing the company for the move, but it's not all praises. A large number of users have taken to social media to criticize Yelp for the feature. They believe that it will make it easier for racists to target Asian-owned businesses. To understand if that is really the case, we need to first understand how the tool works.
Self-identification tool launched
Any business can use the tool through their Yelp for Business account. Owners will simply have to log in, head to the amenities section, and click on the 'Asian-owned' tab. In doing so, when the business is viewed on Yelp, users will see the 'Asian-owned' as one of the attributes of the business on the page. The tool was launched by Yelp in partnership with Gold House, a nonprofit that works for greater inclusivity.
The feature is a direct response to the rise in hate crime against Asians in the US, which has fuelled massive backlash. According to Miriam Warren, chief diversity officer at Yelp, "consumers are increasingly looking to support Asian business owners as the rate of searches on Yelp for Asian-owned businesses in the US increased by 130% in February 2021 compared to the same period the year prior."
Along with it, the company also said that it is "proactively monitoring business pages for hate speech against the Asian community". Co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman also called out the rise in hate crimes. In a blog post, he said, "these latest attacks are yet another reminder that we must all use our voices and whatever platform we have to reject racism in all forms."
The intention is indeed noble, but it can also backfire tremendously. And that is what many are worried about.
"Won't it make it easier?" asks Twitter
Several users on Twitter have criticized Yelp for the move, saying it might help people target Asian businesses. In a way, it is possible. If someone desired, they could simply look up Asain-owned businesses near them and target them specifically either online or offline. When asked this question, the company replied in a tweet, "Yelp is giving business owners the tools to self-identify and opt into sharing if they are Asian-owned on their business page, as this decision should rest solely with the business."
Yelp is giving business owners the tools to self-identify and opt into sharing if they are Asian-owned on their business page, as this decision should rest solely with the business.— Yelp (@Yelp) April 6, 2021
As with all tools, this one can either be used for good or bad. Yelp believes that it is up to the business to decide if it wants to make the claim on a public platform. Putting the onus on the business means Yelp isn't responsible if a particular establishment is targeted. By avoiding any liability, Yelp is clearly ensuring that it doesn't take the fall for further racist attacks should they happen. But the question remains — will racist attacks increase this way?
Answering this is not so easy. There is a clear increase in the number of racist attacks on Asian businesses. The Stop AAPI Hate National Report found that "businesses are the primary site of discrimination", accounting for 35.4% of all cases. The reality is Asian businesses are key targets for racism, but the role of Yelp is not so easy to understand. We couldn't find any studies linking the self-identification of businesses to racist attacks. In the past, Yelp has provided similar tools for Black, Latinx and women-owned businesses, but there are no reports of these tools being used for racist attacks.
That said, publicity has played a role. In March this year, Georgian business the Noodle Tree was vandalized with racist graffiti after owner Mike Nguyen appeared on CNN to denounce Governor Greg Abbot's handling of the pandemic. There is also proof of businesses being attacked without publicity, like the Jade Garden in Seattle and Minado Buffet in Washington. On March 13, a 'Mulan' poster in the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California was vandalized.
The closest we could find linking Yelp to racist behaviour was a February 2020 report by Brookings. The report found that highly-rated businesses in Black neighbourhoods on Yelp face slower growth than those in other neighbourhoods. Despite being rated highly, "businesses in Black-majority neighbourhoods experience annual losses in business revenue as high as $3.9 billion", they found.
This is not entirely Yelp's fault. The bottom line is that being located "in a Black-majority neighbourhood eliminates the advantage of being a highly rated business". Right now, it is too early to say if Yelp's tool will lead to an increase in racist attacks. It is certainly possible, we have seen people misuse technology in the past. That doesn't mean it will happen. Yelp is just one of the many digital tools available. If a person was really motivated to attack an Asian-owned business, they could easily find one using Google, Facebook or any other platform.
Since Yelp's tool is opt-in, businesses can easily choose to ignore it, giving them an extra layer of security. That doesn't make them immune to being attacked, but it means that it will be just a bit harder. Until studies are done, it is hard to say how exactly the tool will impact Asian businesses. For now, we can only hope it is used in the right way.