Digital Culture

BAD BAD BAD! Online Review Culture

Elizabeth Fitton

We are all counting down the days for the first trip to a pub garden. The sun’s out, you’re reunited with your mates, the first round is in- this is possibly the best day of your life since March 23rd 2020. 

Well, let’s hope you’re not refused table service, made to wait over two hours for cold food and spoken to condescendingly by the pub’s owner. That was my experience at The Black Duck pub, with a group of friends, last summer. Left furious, we began composing a scathing review on TripAdvisor. We found solidarity and satisfaction in fellow reviewers echoing our conclusion the owner was “unfriendly”  and “rude”. 

Let’s look at one particular review left by ‘Gobbychops1972’. Mr Gobbychops claimed that they had “30 minute lapses with NO service AT ALL” to which ‘Owner at the Black Duck’ responded: “‘No service at all’ would mean you got no table no drinks & no food – so a pretty inaccurate report of events. You did not complain about ANYTHING while you were here.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t laugh at how ‘gobbychops’ titled his review “BAD, BAD, BAD and BAD AGAIN” like some strange rendition of the Michael Jackson song, or at how this pub owner refuses to accept any criticism. But beyond the mockery, it does reflect the sad reality of online review habits. 

We are in an ever-growing keyboard-warrior culture. We tend to leave a scathing review only after leaving the place, rather than confronting it there and then. Perhaps it reflects the British ‘too polite for confrontation’ culture, where we can only let our rage loose behind the protection of our computer. Leaving negative online reviews is a guilty indulgence in the darker, angrier side of human emotions that we otherwise have to conceal in everyday life. 

While I hate to admit it, The Black Duck’s owner also raises a good point when they use the term “inaccurate report of events”. Inaccuracy or fabrication of a review can have damaging effects on a business’s reputation. 

Recently, a law firm took a man to court after his review on Trustpilot labelled the company a “scam”. Obviously for a law firm, the unlawful connotations of “scam” sent alarm bells ringing through the firm’s office. Accusing the man of libel, he had to pay £26K and the review was removed. 

Sparking mass online attention, the online reviewers assembled like a community of condemnation to publish more negative reviews of the firm.  The firm had to temporarily suspend all Trustpilot reviews. Many people were angry at their online review voices being silenced by this law firm, perhaps doing their reputation more harm than good. 

While it’s important to protect your business against defamation, when the internet fights, perhaps it’s not always best to fight back harder. It is also worth asking how effective negative reviews really are? Despite the negative reviews, The Black Duck’s TripAdvisor average is still a triumphant 4.5 out of 5, showing how the internet’s angry voices can easily be drowned out.