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Yelp lets customers find businesses requiring vaccinations—and tries to head off negative reviews

August 10, 2021, 8:00 PM UTC

As COVID-19 continues its nationwide rampage, fueled by Delta and other variants, more businesses are requiring vaccines for employees and customers. Yelp recently launched two new search filters to help customers find businesses that are taking COVID precautions seriously. Yelp users can now filter search results to find businesses where proof of vaccination is required and where all staff are required to be fully vaccinated. 

“The past year and a half has been like no other—we’ve implemented many new processes to quickly respond to the pandemic,” said Noorie Malik, Yelp’s vice president of user operations.

Malik said that both business owners and consumers have expressed interest in Yelp releasing vaccine-related search filters. Only businesses can add these settings to their Yelp pages and doing so is entirely voluntary. As of Monday, Aug. 9, nearly 4,500 businesses have added “Proof of vaccination required” and/or “All staff fully vaccinated” to their Yelp pages. 

While the new search filters were intended to help promote businesses taking precautions, Yelp is trying to head off more potential backlash. “We’ve also seen a rise in reviews primarily focused on people’s stance on COVID vaccinations rather than their actual experience with the business,” Malik said.

The company has responded to some instances of “review bombing” by placing unusual-activity alerts on Yelp pages that receive an atypical influx of activity resulting from their COVID safety protocols. Yelp said it aims to help protect businesses that may experience backlash for their vaccination policies and, since January 2021, has enacted more than 100 of these alerts and removed nearly 4,500 reviews that violated Yelp’s content policies requiring reviews to be based on first-hand experience.

The company has been fighting these sorts of negative reviews since March 2020, when Yelp updated its content guidelines to introduce COVID-specific rules that prohibit certain information from being part of a review, including claims that someone contracted COVID-19 from a business or its employees, criticism about a business being closed during previously normal hours, criticism of safety measures like mask requirements, and pandemic-related issues that are out of a business’s control, such as mandatory government regulations.

According to Malik, this isn’t the first time Yelp has had to beef up monitoring after new search filters have unintentionally spawned harmful or hateful reviews. The company put a similar monitoring system in place in June 2020, with the launch of a search filter to help customers find Black-owned business, and then again following the launch of Asian-owned and LGBTQ-owned search filters.

Correction, August 11, 2021: A previous version of this article misstated the timing of negative Yelp reviews related to businesses’ COVID-19 policies. 

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