Until Monday, First American Fried Chicken was a little-known family-owned restaurant tucked between a beauty salon and a computer store in downtown Elizabeth, N.J.
On Yelp, reviewers seemed to like it. “Everything from here is amazing,” one user wrote in 2013. “You could feed ya whole family w those deals they have,” wrote another.
Then, overnight, it became a symbol of domestic terrorism.
Authorities on Monday arrested Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, a U.S. citizen and Afghanistan native whom the FBI says is responsible for the bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey over the weekend.
Rahami’s family has owned the chicken restaurant since 2002, according to court records, and Rahami lived in the apartment above it.
When Yelp users found out, they flooded it with bad reviews. As of Tuesday morning, First American Fried Chicken’s page — which previously had just three reviews — was filled with hundreds of negative comments, many of them hurling anti-Islamic insults at the restaurant’s owners, and one even calling for “ethnic cleansing.”
Yelp has posted a “cleanup alert” disabling further posts, saying the business has “made waves in 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,” the disclaimer read.
The number listed for the restaurant appeared to be disconnected. Police blocked off the restaurant with police tape Monday, and Google classified it as “permanently closed.”
Yelp users were unsparing in their comments, with some attempting to connect the restaurant to the bombings.
“Terrorism cell coverup,” wrote LaDonn W., a user from Jasper, Ala. “They need to be closed down.”
“If you eat here, you are contributing to terrorism,” wrote Lora P., California-based user with more than 400 friends on the site.
Authorities have searched the property and Rahami’s apartment, but have not said the restaurant is linked to the bombings.
Other users tried to blame Rahami’s family for the explosions.
“We are sick and tired of your terrorist kind wanting to come here and start a ‘business’ and only find out your [sic] actually breeding terrorists such as your son,” California user Daniel P. wrote.
Another user, in a post that has since been deleted, called for an “ethnic cleansing here.” Users uploaded FBI photos of Rahami to the restaurant’s Yelp page, which is littered with other crude jokes and racist remarks too offensive to publish here.
Vicious criticism and trolling on Yelp have become par for the course when a business is at the center of a public controversy.
Earlier this month, when a mattress company spoofed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in a commercial for a “Twin Towers sale,” Yelp users bombarded it with criticism and negative reviews, The Washington Post reported. And last year, when Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot Cecil the Lion during a hunting trip in Africa, more than 1,500 users descended on his office’s page, leaving excoriating comments and one-star ratings. One reviewer even suggested he commit suicide.
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