In previous posts, we’ve talked about the many ways that astroturfing – particularly, faking online reviews – can hurt your business. It isn’t cool to rate yourself five stars, and there are very real, very serious consequences that you’ll have to face when you do get caught gaming the system.
Some business owners and managers take astroturfing a step further – and that’s by writing and posting fake reviews that are meant to blemish the brand reputation of a competitor.
False complaints on TripAdvisor
Recently, Chris Gamack, a chef in Barnard Castle, UK was exposed on Facebook as the author of a number of TripAdvisor reviews posted under the name Chris Darlington. Gamack posted one-star reviews of rival restaurants – including the Bengal Merchant, Valentine’s Restaurant, the Old Well Inn, and Penny’s Tea Shop – on the travel review site.
According to reports, he wrote a fake review describing one competitor as being so dirty that he wished he’d brought a vacuum cleaner; in another one-star review, he described a frustrating 40-minute wait for food.
The chef has since been dismissed from his job at the Amen Continental Café, and the fake reviews he posted on TripAdvisor have also been deleted.
“We can confirm that the reviews related to this incident were in breach of our guidelines and were removed from TripAdvisor, following an investigation by our content specialists,” said a TripAdvisor spokesman. “We fight fraud aggressively and have sophisticated systems and teams in place to detect fraudsters.”
Mufti Choudhury, manager of the Bengal Merchant, expressed shock at what Gamack had done. “If he had eaten in my restaurant and posted a genuine review, I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. He has a right to do so. However, he has admitted he never stepped foot in my restaurant. Businesses support one another in the town which is why we are so shocked.”
Choudhury also posted a response to the fake review on the restaurant’s Facebook page:
Equally shocked was Paul Smith, owner of the Amen Continental Café. “We knew nothing about it and feel disgusted and upset,” he said. “It’s not the way we operate. The member of staff has been dismissed for gross misconduct and I’ve apologized in person to the people involved.”
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