Maple Ridge restaurant allegedly targeted by secret Facebook group
Published Monday, January 8, 2018 5:09PM PST
Last Updated Monday, January 8, 2018 6:39PM PST
The owner of a restaurant in Maple Ridge, B.C. says he's fallen victim to a vicious social media attack by a Facebook group he claims is bullying his business with negative ratings and abusive posts.
"It's unbelievable what they can come up with," said Mario Bitoiu, the manager of Chameleon Restaurant located in the 11900-block of 224 Street. "This is their target. This is what they want to do—destroy small businesses."
The alleged cyberattack is coming from members of "Himpower," a secret Vancouver-based Facebook community, and began after Bitoiu fired a bartender "due to lack of respect and communication."
"A day after, I started receiving text messages on my phone, sexual messages…they wished I could get hit by a bus today," he said. "I started blocking them as they were coming. I didn't even read them anymore because I knew they were nasty ones."
In a phone interview with CTV News, the fired employee said he lashed out against the restaurant in a post on the group's page.
The worker said he feels remorseful and has since urged members of Himpower to retract their comments and reviews, only to have them turn on him.
Bitoiu said his business only received eight one-star reviews since he took over as one of the managers five years ago. The restaurant received 45 more on Friday and Saturday alone.
Chameleon has since disabled the reviews section of its Facebook page in an attempt to mitigate the damage, but the negative ratings keep coming in on Google.
The reviews range from complaints about the quality of the food and drinks to people who claim they found toenails and body parts in their dishes. Dozens of others simply give the restaurant a one-star rating without any written feedback.
"Obviously, people are going to read that and they're thinking there's something fishy going on there, but some people will take it as is written," the manager said.
A majority of the nearly 160 reviewers on Google gave the restaurant five stars.
Bitoiu says he still has a loyal customer base, but that the alleged cyberattack has begun taking its toll on the business. He added that the restaurant made half as much money on the first Friday of the year as it did on the same day in 2017.
"It could be a coincidence or it could be the reality of getting hit by those nasty messages—people looking for a restaurant, looking at the star rating and realizing that it's not a restaurant for us," he said.
Chameleon has posted on its Facebook page explaining the spike in negative comments and urging patrons report any reviews they consider inappropriate.
"It breaks our hearts after five years of striving to build a positive reputation and achieve an almost five-star rating to see it come tumbling down in one day. As a small, family-owned restaurant, this affects us deeply," the post read.
This isn't the first time Himpower has targeted a local business.
In 2016, a Mexican restaurant in Cumberland, B.C. called BiblioTaco came under a similar alleged cyberattack, receiving hundreds of one-star ratings and negative reviews.
Social media experts say Himpower is one of many online communities with the power to influence business.
"Groups like this exist online in a variety of cities. This one is a large group of individuals who share information online and they do it on an everyday basis," said Jesse Miller of Mediated Reality, a company that offers social media and consulting services for businesses.
"The people who choose to make a one-star review and then have a group of people follow behind it—it's that internet mob mentality and it's one of those things that I think the majority of people who use the internet are trying to fight against."
Miller urged business not to become involved in online conflicts with reviewers and instead invite them to air their grievances as part of a respectful discussion.
In the meantime, Bitoiu said he has reached out to both Facebook and Google, but was disappointed when the social media companies told him they couldn't help.
"We realized this is bigger than we thought. We tried to stop it. My son called Facebook and called Google and unfortunately, we didn't get any help at all," he said.
"It's very frustrating to see that—big corporations like that—instead of helping little guys like us, they're pretty much destroying us."
Chameleon's owners also contacted the RCMP, who said there was little police could do if there was no criminal activity involved.
"It’s very upsetting knowing that we can stop this bleeding and they aren't willing to do anything about it,” he said.
“There's got to be a way of turning that off."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith