Yelp has made a highly risky, wildly optimistic gambit: the company announced that it’s rolling out a feature whereby users can report businesses for not following covid-19 safety protocols, which will be reflected in notifications on the business’s page. Will people prove themselves measured arbiters of justice? Yelp puts a troubled populous to the test.
Yelp announced the change today in a press release noting that “several user responses” from logged-in Yelpers are needed for a business to suffer an orange question mark, connoting that either “social distancing might not be enforced according to most users” and/or “staff might not wear masks according to most users.” (Truly egregious offenders might get both orange marks of shame.) Conversely,if enough customers congratulate a restaurant for doing well, the business can get up to two green checks stating: “Social distancing enforced according to most users” and/or “staff wears masks according to most users.”
The obvious immediate observation is that this seems perfectly designed to facilitate online personal vendettas! But then again, that’s not wholly different from what Yelp has always been.
Yelp is not totally blind to this predicament. “To prevent people from potentially gaming the system, we are not disclosing the number of responses needed,” a Yelp spokesperson said in a statement shared with Gizmodo. The company said it’s “implemented advanced technology” to prevent potential abuse, but how that technology works remains a mystery.
The function leads one to wonder whether Yelp has seen one too many complaints of businesses flaunting covid-19 rules. The company has so far seemed to prioritize protecting businesses from damaging covid-19-related reviews and allowed businesses to report their own safety precautions and socially distanced options. But those were early days, when not everyone appreciated that business owners are just as deranged as customers who wear their masklessness as a badge of honor anyway.
Yelp is still rolling out the feature, which now only displays on a few hundred businesses. Even if this spirals out of control, Yelp’s faith in us deeply inspiring.