Small Companies Face Threats and Backlash as Vaccine Passports Go into Impact – Kelowna Capital Information
With each new pandemic measure in place, The Hearty Hooligan restaurant in Hamilton has been exposed to fake one-star reviews, online harassment, and disruption to its location.
The situation is bad enough that chef Matthew Miles installs a panic button on the counter and uses role-playing games to practice dealing with unruly customers with his staff.
With vaccination records becoming mandatory for non-essential activities in many provinces, companies like Miles say they are preparing for another wave of threatening phone calls and online harassment.
While fake reviews haven’t influenced The Hearty Hooligan too much thanks to their existing community support, Miles says other less established companies might be less prepared to weather the storm.
“I can definitely imagine that it would be challenging, not just from a business perspective, but also from a mental health perspective,” said Miles.
“Pouring your life into something just to see people tear it down over something you have no control over must be immensely frustrating.”
In Calgary, clothing and lifestyle store owner Madame Premier said she had received threatening phone calls referring to her name after deciding to enforce vaccination records in her store.
Alberta’s vaccine verification system doesn’t include retail stores, but Sarah Elder-Chamanara chose to implement it anyway to protect her and her two young children from COVID-19.
She says she has since been inundated with dozens of bad reviews on Google and messages on her store’s Instagram.
“I countered this by letting some people know so they could post positive reviews to counter the negative,” Elder-Chamanara said.
“But I don’t want to have to do that, honestly I shouldn’t do that with my time as a small business owner – it takes my business away from me.”
Restaurants Canada, an industry association, says Alberta companies are likely at increased risk of harassment because Alberta vaccination records allow companies to decide whether or not vaccination is required.
“Having a program that places responsibility for making that decision on one restaurant is challenging,” said Todd Barclay, President and CEO of Restaurants Canada.
“One restaurant next to the other could have completely different rules. In my opinion, this is not the way to run these programs, the government has to make the decisions about what they think should happen. “
He urged companies like Yelp and Google to do more to support companies that are the target of hateful reviews.
Yelp said it introduced a feature that allows restaurants to indicate that they need proof of vaccination or have fully vaccinated staff. It is said that these companies are automatically monitored for evidence of “review bombing,” in which people flood the company with fake bad reviews.
“We post unusual activity alerts on a Yelp Page when we discover an influx of activity in response to a business attracting public attention caused by people coming to Yelp to share their views on an issue rather than describing their actual interactions with a company, ”said a Yelp spokesperson.
“It is our policy that all reviews on Yelp must be based on a consumer’s first-hand experience with the company.”
The company said it had placed 190 unusual activity alerts and removed 8,000 comments on its platform since January 2021.
Meanwhile, business owners like Elder-Chamanara say they are trying to delete fake reviews and feel safe at work.
These days she keeps the front door of her shop locked and only opens it to anyone who tries to enter the shop.
“I’m not proud of it,” Elder-Chamanara said, but she said that it is just another thing that she has to do to feel safe, especially as a woman working alone in her business.
—Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press
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