Restaurant’s reputation tarnished by ‘fake reviews’ online
(KUTV) -- If you're thinking about trying a restaurant you haven’t been to before, you might first check out the company’s reviews online. But one new restaurant in Lehi is hoping you don't look its reviews. The owner says he’s being sabotaged.
Justin Hohl's restaurant, Ramen Nation, has only been open a couple months and he says he's gotten a positive reaction from customers.
“People love the environment. They love that we're here in the community. They love that there's ramen now in Lehi," he said.
But about six weeks ago, Ramen Nation's Facebook page got slammed with a pile of nasty reviews.
"Our rating on Facebook was a 4.9 and it suddenly shot down to a 3.7," he said.
Hohl says he would accept the criticism and try to use it to grow, but he’s pretty sure the reviews are fake. All of them were posted within about a one-hour-window, half of the reviews profiles are from outside Utah and the profiles were all been created right around the time Ramen Nation was hit.
Get Gephardt producer Cindy St. Clair was also able to prove the photo used as the profile picture for one of the photos was stolen. Using a reverse image search, she found the photo of page for a professional photographer and confirmed with the photographer that the name on the profile didn’t match the person in the photo – who happened to be her family member.
"We're really concerned because reviews are an important way to draw new customers into your restaurant," he said.
Hohl has complained to Facebook, but he says those complaints have mostly fallen on deaf ears.
"I've tried calling their headquarters. I've tried emailing. It's really hard to get through to a person," he said.
Facebook isn't a stranger to fake accounts being created to influence their users. The company's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was grilled by lawmakers this year. Among the questions: how fake news and bots were used on Facebook to trick people.
Get Gephardt reached out to Facebook to ask about the reviews posted on the Ramen Nation page. A company spokeswoman wrote that, "over the past year, we've gotten increasingly better at finding and disabling fake accounts." Facebook says that, in some cases, they can shut down fake profiles before they even go live thanks to "machine learning and artificial intelligence."
Facebook suggests that people who spot reviews they believe to be fake should flag them.
When a business is defamed by a liar, the business can also take the lair to court, says First Amendment Attorney Jeff Hunt.
“People tend to think that they can say anything on the internet that they want with legal impunity, and that is not the case,” he said. “You are just as responsible for the statements you make on the internet anonymously or not as you would be saying it face to face or writing."
The trouble is suing is hard and these types of cases are especially hard. To win, first a business has to figure out who posted the defamatory statement, then it has to prove the review was false, then it has to prove exactly how the business was harmed - and at the end of all that, the business has to hope the guy it’s suing has any money.
"It's time consuming,” Hunt says. “It's expensive to hire a lawyer."
Hunt says that it’s especially difficult to go after the guys with the deep pockets – IE: Facebook. The law treats Facebook like a bulletin board. It's the person who posted who is responsible for what was said, not the bulletin board.
"You can sue them but you probably won't win," Hunt says.
Hohl says that Facebook removes about half of the negative reviews after he complained, but he's worried it could happen again and put his business under.
"We just want to have real people giving us real reviews and not have to worry about people making things up," he said. "We must have an enemy, but I can't figure out who it would be."
professional online lying is actually an illicit business. Get Gephardt found places on the dark web where people can buy positive or negative reviews - sometimes for as little as $5.