Limitoo News

Surge of support for bar after online trolls' fake reviews

Local bar Woof is biting back at fake bad reviews posted apparently in retaliation for the pub continuing to use vaccine certificates, even though they're no longer compulsory.

Last week Woof told Checkpoint it was keeping the passes because that's what its customers want and it also has a responsibility to do what it can to keep staff too.

That decision unleashed the online trolls, but co-owner Dudley Benson was not about to let it slide.

He tells Lisa Owen what he did.

"There was a lot of misinformation, science misinformation peddled," Benson said. "There were bogus complaints along the lines of our bar smelling of sewage and our staff being angry and having anger management problems to just no words at all.

"So there was a kind of a spectrum of absolute nonsense."

Benson decided to take matters into his own hands, and reach out to the people who left the false reviews himself.

"I feel that we're at a point where there's a chasm between what people say and do online and a real life consequence. This bullying and this attempt to take down me, my team, our business, our community extremely bothered me."

Benson investigated the people who were leaving the false reviews and attempted to identify them.

"I set about contacting them, cold-calling them, and if I couldn't find their number, I called their places of work and spoke to their managers or employers."

He had a "range" of responses, ranging from denial to misdirection, and said he felt that few of them had likely ever been to Woof or were even from Dunedin.

"There was a sort of sheepishness at being caught and some very lousy attempts at denial, blaming perhaps that someone had broken into their account.

"It was pretty lazy denial and it was clear that they were the people who had done it."

Employers of those Benson contacted were not thrilled either, he said.

"When I spoke to managers and employers, it was just a high level of embarrassment that their staff, their colleagues, were exhibiting such destructive behaviour towards another business in New Zealand who is just trying to look after their community and survive during a pandemic."

So what did Benson say when he confronted the people who had left negative reviews?

"I said very clearly to these people that it doesn't matter if we disagree on policy or on how we run our business or even on the science, but what isn't fair and what I won't stand for is having them try to take us down. That's what I told them.

"I explained it really clearly that to me that's an injustice and that it's not something I would do to them as individuals or to their places of work."

The online complainers ranged from lab technicians and evangelical Christian builders to business consultants. One was a business intelligence officer at ANZ, he said.

"We do our banking with ANZ, so I was particularly disturbed that that person had attacked us with a one-star review and that review accused us of discrimination."

There have been two consequences for Woof, Benson said, one positive and one negative.

"First of all, we've had an enormous amount of support from our patrons and our community, both in Dunedin and across all Aotearoa, and I don't think it's a coincidence that this last week was our biggest and busiest week of the year.

"We had over 1200 groups which translates to about 4000 people over four nights through Woof, and of those roughly 4000 people, we only had one person who didn't want to show us their vaccine pass, and they very politely moved on.

Benson shared his experience on Twitter, which took off globally.

"I wanted (to tell) other business owners, especially in hospitality in Aotearoa, who are doing it hard. I wanted them to know that you can deal with the situation and call these people out and show them that there are consequences for their actions.

"And that tweet went kind of crazy. It sort of bounced around the world and I think at the moment there's about 12,000 likes of it."

Unfortunately, as the tweet spread, so did some of the negative feedback Benson and Woof have been experiencing.

"We've all been attacked with incredibly homophobic material which I won't repeat. It's so disgusting."

Last week Lisa heard from Josh Thomas, the other co-owner of Woof, about why they're keeping vaccine passes.