The anti-vaccine blackmail that scares the hospitality industry

Vaccinated for one side, not vaccinated for another. (Creative Commons Image)

A few days ago, the manager of a popular New York Soho bar called “Mother’s ruinHe had a seemingly ingenious idea. To make clear his support for the vaccination campaign, he put up a sign in front of the entrance of his establishment. With a really simple scheme, the poster included only two opposite arrows, one pointed inside the bar and said “vaccinated”, the other pointed towards the street and said “not vaccinated”. In case one did not pass in person in front of the bar, the manager also decided to take a photo and upload it to instagram.

By the way, before following my geek streak, it prompts me to tell something related to the name of the pub, which has been a common and centennial joke in the Anglo-Saxon world. The reason is that that is the name (“the ruin of mothers”) With which gin has been known since the 18th century in England. The story, which is very curious, can be read here although you can already guess where the shots go. It seems that many English women became addicted to this distillate, which ruined their lives and that of their children.

Let’s continue with the story of the “famous poster”. It was the first hot weekend of summer in New York, and the photo initially uploaded to Instagram soon became just as “hot” on the internet. Indeed, the occurrence quickly became viral on both sides of the pond thanks to the fact that a user of the popular website Reddit He posted it on his busy forums.

Soon, the bar manager started receiving emails from European supporters of the anti-vaccine movement (the email was accessible through the business profile on Google). As you can imagine, the messages were not sympathetic but hateful. In some they called him a Nazi, in others a communist and there were also several in whom they wanted the bar to be burned. Anyway, as long as the raging madness was only via email, it didn’t seem so dangerous.

But obviously things got worse and soon his establishment began to receive low ratings both in YELP like in Google Reviews. Curiously, all those criticisms came from Europe, and therefore from people who probably never would have set foot in his business in New York. Outcome? Today you will not be able to find the photo of the two arrows on Instagram or Reddit. Digital reputation is something best not to play with.

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Is it an isolated case? Not at all, as I can read in Technology Review, the spasming of web pages with low ratings is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the pandemic, anti-vaccine movements have used this tactic to attack American bars and restaurants that forced customers to wear a mask in their facilities for security reasons. Now, this digital guerrilla is used against those who ask for proof of vaccination (such as Mother’s Ruin) from their clients.

These reviews with a single star (the lowest score) often cause extreme damage to the businesses that suffer from these discrediting campaigns. The reason is that most of the users usually read the reviews chronologically ordered (the latter appear at the top). This makes the most recent opinions the most influential, and you can imagine the rest of the story.

What do opinion-based companies do about it? Well, as I can read, although some companies are dealing with the matter trying to verify that the people who have made the criticism of the place were really there, contacting them by email or reviewing their records, the truth is that the industry leaders (like Yelp or Google Review) allow anyone to rate and review a business without doing any verification.

Although it appears that both Yelp and Google Review perform periodic cleaning tasks, both when the business owner marks some opinions as “suspicious”, and when they detect an unusual movement of low evaluations in a short space of time, the truth is that both companies are very cryptic and opaque in explaining the methods used to detect spam. It seems incredible that in the era of digital communications, artificial intelligence, 5G and geo-positioning satellite networks, companies as powerful as Google do not perform simple IP filtering when evaluating a criticism, but it is. In the case of the Mother’s Ruin, something like this would have been enough to prevent the transoceanic lynching.

I guess the matter it won’t be easy to solve, and I understand that large technology companies cannot hire armies of people who try to differentiate real bad reviews from those motivated by discrediting campaigns (something that on the other hand must be practically impossible), but meanwhile many businessmen in the branch of the hospitality, whose life and salary depend on tourists perceiving that the place is palatable and decide to enter and consume, live in perpetual frustration, hostage to full-blown blackmail.

Now that governments are also lifting restrictions in Europe, and that it will be the hoteliers who apply the preventive measures they consider appropriate, it must be terrible to have to choose between the safety of your customers and your staff, and the whims of people without scruples for whom ruining you is as simple as scoring a single star.

We are doing something wrong when the anti-vaccine movement appears to be ahead of the all-powerful Google in a war in which the weakest link is the loser.

I found out by reading MIT Technology Review

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