Restaurants’ Yelp and Google pages are being hijacked by one-star reviews from people who have never eaten there, including people from a different state than the one the restaurant is in. Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are being flooded with violent messages and comments, many with the same theme: anti-vaxxers accusing the restaurants of discriminating against them. Some of these posts compare vaccine requirements to racial discrimination.
One restaurant owner in Portland, Oregon, told Eater he had been accused of supporting “segregation” and “apartheid” after announcing on Aug. 6 that his Filipino restaurant would require all customers age 12 and up to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last two days.
“They’re calling me, a brown person, a Nazi!” said Carlo Lamagna, the owner of Magna Kusina and Kantina. “This harassment, to me, at first, was infuriating, but I have to keep reminding myself that these people hide behind the veil of social media.”
Another restaurant owner in Massachusetts told the outlet that he got similar messages after reopening his restaurant for indoor dining.
“There’s folks calling us communist. There’s folks saying that this is like segregation,” said Tracy Chang, the owner of Pagu. “And then there’s just also been a lot of one-star reviews that have no comments.”
Many of the negative reviews and comments appeared following the debut of Yelp’s new feature allowing users to apply two new filters when searching for restaurants and businesses: “proof of vaccination required” and “all staff fully vaccinated.”
After this issue of “review bombing” surfaced, Yelp also began monitoring businesses that list their COVID-19 requirements and staff’s vaccination status for customers. According to Eater, since January, Yelp has put more than 100 “unusual activity alerts” on businesses’ Yelp pages that have experienced “review bombing,” most commonly for requiring masks or proof of vaccination status. In a statement, Yelp confirmed it’s taken down more than 4,500 reviews that violated its policies since January.
“Tackling ‘review bombing’ incidents has become an increasingly significant issue in the online review platform ecosystem, which is why Yelp has heavily invested in addressing this phenomenon for years through our Consumer Alerts program,” Noorie Malik, Yelp’s vice president of user operations, said in a statement.
But while the circumstances have been negative, many establishments told Eater, community support outshone the negativity.
“Nine out of 10 people who show up at the door are very supportive, and thank us for taking this measure,” Chang said. “They tell us that they feel safer, they tell us that it’s their first time dining indoors or dining out of their homes at all since the pandemic. The one out of 10 negative reactions that we have is mostly online.”
But as a woman of color and Asian American, Chang did express fears of escalation, including in-person violence. “Would we be further targeted because we’re female-owned and because I’m Asian as well? That’s just a whole other can of worms.”
Anti-Asian hate is increasing across the country at alarming rates. A new report issued by Stop AAPI Hate on Thursday found that despite increased national attention and political action between March 2020 and June 31, 2021, more than 9,000 anti-Asian incidents were reported. According to the report, the number of hate incidents increased from 6,603 to 9,081 in the last three months of this reporting period alone. Women and the elderly are the most common targets of these crimes, Daily Kos reported.
Chang’s fears are not unreasonable. Many incidents of anti-vaxxer backlash have gone from online to real life. Kraig Rovensky, the local president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild in Seattle, told Eater he received several threats after the bar where he works began requiring customers to be fully vaccinated. “Now, I think we’re at a week since we [implemented] the vaccine, and I’m at nine death threats,” he said. “Five personal to my own Instagram, and two phone calls directed to the bar, and one to my actual personal cell phone, as well as one to my face at the bar. She threatened to follow me home and murder me, which was pretty intense.”
Unfortunately, these incidents aren’t isolated. Earlier in the year when some states left it in the hands of establishments to decide whether or not masks would be required in their businesses, anti-maskers harassed and threatened these places as well. In one incident, a Texas restaurant was even vandalized for speaking up against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift all coronavirus restrictions in the state. The restaurant was covered in xenophobic graffiti and language including “kung flu” and “ramen noodle flu,” Daily Kos reported.
But individual anti-vaxxers are not the only ones targeting restaurants. Two restaurants in Austin, Texas, were forced to cancel these proof of vaccine policies after the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) threatened to pull their liquor licenses. The news comes as the delta variant spreads through Texas at alarming rates.
It seems that some GOP officials would rather support violence than work towards ensuring the public health and safety of their residents.
In order for the pandemic to ever end, officials and leaders need to do better to ensure that COVID-19 regulations are not only in place but followed. Instead of fueling the fire, more needs to be done to stop the spread of misinformation and vaccinate Americans.