Yelp Reviews Colored by Racism, Could Impact Gentrification: Study

Lucy Bayly, NBC News, November 13, 2015

Do racial biases reflected in Yelp restaurant reviews impact communities’ economies and ultimately play a role in gentrification?

That’s the contention of a new study of more than 7,000 consumer-contributed Yelp reviews of restaurants in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Greenpoint.

The study, titled “The Omnivore’s Neighborhood? Online Restaurant Reviews, Race, and Gentrification” and published in the Journal of Consumer Culture, found that reviewers tended to celebrate the “cozy, European” vibe of eateries in Greenpoint, an historically Polish enclave, while dismissing the environment in the predominantly black “Bed-Stuy” community as a “gritty” and “dangerous.”

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The authors found that while reviewers cast both neighborhoods as “up and coming” and were generally positive in describing the ethnic restaurants there, they often decried the loss of Greenpoint’s “pleasant, authentic” Polish heritage while extolling the changes occurring in Bed-Stuy.

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But Nick Solares, senior editor at EaterNY, said the biases exhibited in the Yelp reviews demonstrate a short-coming of crowdsourced feedback.

“I think this information shows the problem with Yelp in a broader sense,” he said. “It’s very reductive, and there’s an imposition of personal bias in Yelp reviews that you just wouldn’t get in a professional review. Technically speaking, a restaurant review should not be critiquing the neighborhood or the architecture of the building. I don’t think we can look at these sensationalist reviews as legitimate sociological reactions.”

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