With the introduction of each new pandemic measure, The Hearty Hooligan restaurant in Hamilton has faced fake one-star reviews, online harassment and disruption to its site.
The situation is bad enough that chef Matthew Miles installs a panic button at their counter and practices how to deal with unruly customers with his staff using role-playing games.
Now that proof of vaccination has become mandatory for non-essential activities in many provinces, companies like Miles say they are bracing for a new wave of threatening calls and harassment online.
While the bogus reviews haven’t affected The Hearty Hooligan too much with their existing community support, Miles says other less established businesses may be less prepared to weather the storm.
âI can definitely see how difficult that would be, not only from a business standpoint but also from a mental health standpoint,â Miles said.
âGiving your life into something, only to see people destroy it for something you have no control over must be extremely frustrating. “
In Calgary, the owner of clothing and lifestyle store Madame Premier said she received threatening calls calling her by name after choosing to apply proof of vaccination at her business.
Alberta’s vaccine verification system does not include retail outlets, but Sarah Elder-Chamanara has chosen to implement it anyway to protect her and her two young children from COVID- 19.
She says she has been inundated with dozens of bad Google reviews and Instagram posts from her store since then.
âI countered that by letting some people know so they can post positive reviews to counter negative reviews,â Elder-Chamanara said.
“But I don’t want to have to do that, that’s not what I should be doing with my time as a small business owner frankly – it takes away from my business.”
Restaurants Canada, an industry association, says businesses in Alberta likely face an increased risk of harassment because Alberta’s vaccine passport allows businesses to decide whether or not to require vaccination.
âHaving a program where a restaurant is responsible for making this decision creates a significant challenge,â said Restaurants Canada President and CEO Todd Barclay.
âA restaurant next to another might have a completely different set of rules. In my opinion, this is not the way to manage these programs, the government has to make the decisions on what it thinks should happen.
He called on companies like Yelp and Google to do more to support businesses that are the targets of hate reviews.
Yelp said it has rolled out a feature that allows restaurants to indicate that they need proof of vaccination or have staff fully vaccinated. He says these businesses are automatically monitored for evidence of “review bombardment,” where people flood the business with fake negative reviews.
âWe place unusual activity alerts on a Yelp page when we discover an influx of activity in response to a business that is gaining public attention, caused by people coming to Yelp to express their perspective on an issue. instead of describing their actual interaction with a business, âsaid a spokesperson for Yelp.
âOur policy is that all reviews on Yelp should be based on direct customer experience with the business. “
The company said it had placed 190 unusual activity alerts and deleted 8,000 comments on its platform since January 2021.
In the meantime, business owners like Elder-Chamanara say they’re trying to remove bogus reviews and feel safe on the job.
These days, she keeps her store front door locked and only opens it for each person trying to enter the store.
âIt’s not something I’m proud of,â Elder-Chamanara said, but she said it was just another thing she had to do to feel safe, especially as a woman working alone. in his store.
âSalmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press
Corona virus vaccines