First American Fried Chicken in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has attracted a great deal of attention due to bomb suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami, who was taken into custody Monday after a shootout with cops in Linden, NJ. Rahami used to work at the fried chicken joint, which is owned by his father, Mohammad. Following the news, angry Yelp users took to the Internet to attack the restaurant.
“If you are a Filthy Mohammedan savage, then by all means stop back by and enjoy their cockroach-laden Halal food, which means the animal has been ritually tortured before processing because Satan/Allah commands it,” wrote Mark S. from Mandeville, LA. Mark has written 19 reviews, and this one received attention on Yelp. Fourteen users found it “useful,” while 10 said it was “funny,” and four described it as “cool.” (As an aside, halal slaughter — like Jewish kosher slaughter — is actually comparatively humane.) This reviewer gave the restaurant 1 star.
Mark S. continued with more mocking attacks on Muslims, again referring to them as “Filthy Mohammedan Savages.” He recommended the “Religion of Pieces – it’s Shredded Meat, cooked rare and dripping with blood.” He also listed the “Workplace Violence Happy Meal,” and the “Special Snowflake ice cream dish.”
This troll was far from alone on the Yelp page. Tiny F. from West Covina, CA, described First American Fried Chicken as “terrorist owned and operated. These anti Americans need your money to support their hate against America. Vote Clinton to keep this going 4 more years.” Anthony M. from Brooklyn, NY, left yet another 1-star review, saying, “The food will give you explosive diarrhea.”
Mark S. from Flushing, NY, described the joint as “not as good as the Guantanamo location.” He went on: “The 72 virgin bucket special is only good with the jihadi sauce. Unfortunately proceeds of this business seem to or may have gone towards funding badly built ‘pipe bombs’ Munchers (jalapeño poppers) are the bomb though, literally.”
The restaurant has 85 reviews on Yelp, with 83 of them coming on September 19, 2016. There are only two reviews dating before Monday, and both are positive: one 4-star, and one 5-star. In June of last year, Madison D. from Brooklyn, NY wrote, “This is within walking distance to all the shops on Elmora, open pretty late, & the food is good!!”
In October, 2013, Mary B. from Elizabeth, NJ, gave the restaurant 5 stars. “I really like this place fried chicken, there fries, there Jamaican patty!!! Everything from here is amazing and is open till 2 am, doesn’t get any better!!!”
Next Page: How the restaurant made the news, and Yelp’s response to these reviews.
The restaurant attracted attention not just due to the connection with Rahami, but also because one of the first bombs discovered on Sunday night was near the restaurant itself.
The city’s mayor, J. Christian Bollwage, described problems the city had had with the Rahami family in the past. Mohammad Rahami opened the restaurant about a decade ago, and ran it for 24 hours a day. Neighbors complained about rowdy crowds there which would gather after midnight.
Bollwage explained that the city council voted to shut down the restaurant at 10 p.m., due to “complaints from neighbors, it was a distress to people in the neighborhood.” Neighbors continued to complain that the Rahamis did not comply, keeping the restaurant open late anyway. One night, the police came to force the restaurant to close, and one of Ahmad’s older brothers got into a fight with a police officer and was arrested.
As for the negative Yelp reviews, the website does give an “Active Cleanup Alert” for any visitor checking out First American Fried Chicken. This alert explains that the business “recently made waves in the news, which often means that people come to this page to post their views on the news.”
While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.
Even if Ahmad Rahami’s father is partially responsible for his son’s decision to become a terrorist, Yelp exists as a forum for reviews on restaurants and other businesses. It should not be used as a place to air political opinions or grievance, no matter how justified those opinions may be.
This flashpoint is but one example of a disturbing trend on social media in general. In many cases, reviews tend to be less about the actual product, company, or book and more a way to mock or attack someone. When Memories Pizza unfortunately announced that it would not cater a gay wedding (not like they would ever be asked to…), hundreds of people took to Yelp to leave negative reviews. When a dentist poached Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, the Internet outrage not only left his practice with negative Yelp reviews, it resulted in death threats to his person, and stuffed lions outside his office.
In the case of this restaurant, a large deluge of negative reviews has pushed the rating from 4.5 out of 5 stars down to 1.5 out of 5 stars, due almost entirely to the negative news connotations of the business. Now, the business has employed a terrorist, and that is certainly grounds for investigation — but that’s not what Yelp exists to do. The kind of mockery that has overtaken this social media site is frankly disgusting (even if parts of it are hilarious), and I hope Yelp removes many if not most of the reviews I quoted above.
If First American Fried Chicken was indeed involved — as a business — with the radicalization and support of this lone-wolf terrorist, that is a serious matter to be investigated by state and federal authorities. This might very well be grounds for the business to be closed, in America’s interest. But to have random Internet users making such claims — interspersed with insults and jeers — does nothing to aid citizens of the town of Elizabeth in their search for late-night fried chicken.
If the company serves good food (and is not a threat to American interests), Yelp users should be able to learn that, rather than being distracted by attacks on the “Filthy Mohammedan Savage.” It is exactly rhetoric like that which leads liberals to mistakenly call conservatives “Islamophobes.”