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Asian businesses in US face rising racism in online reviews

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | | Updated: 2023-02-06 10:53
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Business owners of Asian descent face the largest increase in racist reviews among all ethnic groups in the United States, and experts said this anti-Asian sentiment can damage minority-owned businesses.

The online review platform Yelp said last week that it removed more than 2,000 hateful or racist business reviews last year. Among them, 475 reviews were left for Asian-owned businesses, 320 reviews for black-owned businesses, and 800 for Hispanic-owned businesses.

Asian-owned businesses saw the largest increase in such reviews, compared with black-owned and Hispanic-owned businesses, according to the San Francisco-based company, which released its annual trust and safety report this week.

In 2021, Yelp said it removed only nine posts that included anti-Asian hate.

"I read the recent report and that actually doesn't surprise me at all. It's very consistent with what we've been tracking, which includes online hate and racist rhetoric," Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, told China Daily.

Nearly 11,500 anti-Asian hate incidents were reported to Stop AAPI Hate's reporting center between March 19, 2020, and March 31, 2022. Two in 3 of those incidents involved harassment, such as verbal or written hate speech or inappropriate gestures.

"It's very disheartening. Many small businesses were hit hard, but especially Asian businesses that saw a drop in business because COVID was racialized," said Choi.

She said "a disturbing pattern" emerged between the racist and xenophobic rhetoric used by former president Donald Trump, such as calling the coronavirus "kung flu" and "Chinese virus", and a number of policies and efforts to target AAPI communities, such as painting Chinese researchers and students as spies.

Yelp first began tracking racial hate speech on its platform in 2020 as Asian Americans experienced a rise in racially motivated hatred related to COVID-19. The platform started allowing businesses to identify that they had an Asian, black, or Latino owner that year.

Christopher Wong, who owns the Curry Up Cafe in suburban Los Angeles, told The Associated Press that he was a victim of racist reviews on Yelp.

"I will not have my dog eat in this place because they might cook him," read the Yelp review of Wong's eatery. "The owner works for the Chinese government."

Yelp deleted the review after he and several regular customers complained. But he was worried that an unknown number of potential customers had read that and decided not to come in.

Asian American businesses were particularly hit harder during the pandemic because many of them were small businesses in industries that were susceptible to COVID impact, such as hospitality and leisure, retailing, and other services, such as hair and nail salons and personal services.

An increase in anti-Chinese sentiment has led to consumer discrimination against Asian American-owned small businesses, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan, which was published in Nature Human Behavior last month.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians' stigmatizing language, media outlets' dehumanizing images of Asians, and increasing anti-Asian hate crimes all have contributed, according to the researchers who chose restaurants to study the economic effects of this bias.

The study found Asian restaurants experienced a drop in traffic of 18.4 percent on average relative to comparable non-Asian restaurants in the same areas during the pandemic.

That decline cost Asian restaurants around $7.42 billion in lost revenue in 2020, which is "a large impact for a large swath of small businesses", said the researchers.

Furthermore, the researchers pointed to the role of Trump. In areas where support for him was more than 75 percent, relative avoidance was as high as 30 percent; in low Trump-support areas, that relative avoidance was less than 10 percent.

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