Social reviews, small businesses and partisan politics
It's not just election candidates getting trashed on the Internet during the 2012 US presidential election campaign
Blogs | 12 Sep 2012 :
Many people on this side of the Atlantic are probably aware there is a presidential election campaign taking place across the water. They may not have been paying too much attention, but they still might have caught some news reports about the recent conventions for the dominant Republican and Democrat parties.
One image which has been transmitted around the globe this week concerns what happened when President Obama visited a pizza shop in Fort Pierce, Florida, on 9 September. Obama was visiting the owner of Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Restaurant, Scott Van Nuzer, to express his appreciation for Van Nuzer's role in encouraging people in the community to make blood donations. Van Nuzer has also set up a foundation to help one family a month with financial and medical crises.
When Obama arrived at the restaurant, he pointed at Van Nuzer's chest and said: "Everybody look at these guns. If I eat your pizza will I look like that?" Van Nuzer started laughing and then lifted Obama off the ground in a bear hug.
Although Van Nuzer is a registered Republican, he voted for Obama in 2008 and said he intends to do so again in this year's election.
You might think the story would end there but thanks to the wonders of the Internet what happened next shows just how politically charged the US has become in 2012 and how dangerous that climate can be for a small business owner.
The pizzeria's page on Yelp, which had previously had two five star reviews, was quickly inundated with negative one star reviews, mainly from well outside Florida, most of them posted on the same day. The posters made no attempt to hide the political nature of their 'reviews'.
One wrote: "I will not eat from traitor's hands and I'll never take food from man who DIDN"T BUILD his business." Another stated: "It was nasty. Not surprised the owner is an Obama hack." There are many more, such as "support marxist president... go down in flames."
Pretty soon, there was a war going on as people responded to the negative reviews by posting positive reviews even though they too had probably never eaten at the pizzeria. "I support Scott!," wrote one. "Those of you who gave him a bad review just for hugging the president are what's wrong with politics in America today. Boycotting a local business doesn't do anything," wrote one. Another asked, rather plaintively: "Has political bashing come to belittling a man's livelihood! I hope not but I am afraid so."
One person who actually lives in Florida posted the following: "Great pizza! And I know because I have eaten there. Those of you posting bad reviews just so that you can negatively influence this man's business should be ashamed!"
At time of writing, there were nearly 2,400 reviews on the pizzeria's Yelp page and the Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Restaurant is Yelp's highest rated restaurant in Florida.
There's a salutary lesson to us all when the Internet can provide a very dangerous platform for a small minority of rather bitter and twisted people to launch economic war on a business because they don't agree with the owner's politics. The flip side is that people were able to marshall their resources in defence of the business very quickly.
In a polarised society, the initial anger someone could feel at something is all too often given sustenance by intemperate websites that appear to have a default setting of apoplectic rage. There's no time to pause for breath.
From a business perspective, it's hard not to feel amazement that people would make a concerted effort to destroy a company just because a man decided to give the President of their country a hug. Thank the Lord it would never happen here.