The review site Yelp is now offering a new feature that the company says are consumer alerts for a "Business Accused of Racist Behavior." The company can post these alerts to any business's page after Yelp receives complaints from customers who say they've experienced racism or a racist incident at a particular business.
Willie Rhine, the co-owner of Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge in Palm Springs, is among those who think it's a bad idea.
"That is my biggest concern -- that people have the ability to go on Yelp and say whatever they wish," said Rhine.
Though Eight4Nine's Yelp page has not been tagged with an alert for racist behavior, a review posted Monday by "Wen S." mentioned Rhine by name and described his business as a "racist organization."
The restaurateur categorically denies the accusation and said he's concerned other businesses and owners could also be falsely labeled as racist under Yelp's new alerts.
"This weekend I was personally accused on Yelp of being a racist," said Rhine.
News Channel 3 was told the Yelp review stems from an incident Saturday night involving an Asian customer, according to restaurant co-owner John Paschal, who did not want to comment on camera.
Paschal said the customer got into a heated confrontation with him over face coverings and threatened him.
Eventually, the customer left the restaurant after police were called.
"Unfortunately, the situation got way out of hand, and I wasn't even there," said Rhine.
Paschal said there was nothing at all racist about the confrontation, while Rhine said his name and that of their business is being unfairly dragged through the mud.
Rhine said he will now work to contact Yelp to set the record straight and clear his name, though he was not quite sure where to start, whether by email or making a phone call.
Regarding Yelp's "Business accused of Racist Behavior" alerts, the company said the alerts will be posted only when there is quote "resounding evidence" of racist actions and that an alert will be linked to a "news article from a credible media outlet so users can learn more."
News Channel 3 contacted Yelp media relations representatives asking for a comment in response to Rhine's concerns over the review posted by Wen S.
A Yelp representative emailed a written statement to News Channel 3, which reads in part:
"To clarify, we have not removed the option to report reviews and can confirm the review you linked to was reported to our moderators and will be investigated. If the review is found to be in violation of our policies, it will be removed from our platform. Relatedly, Yelp does not take sides in factual disputes. We look to reviewers to write honestly and stand behind their reviews based on their first-hand consumer experiences."