Campaigners call for the posting of fake reviews to be made an offence

Campaigners call for the posting of fake reviews online to be made a criminal offence

  • The Gourmet Goat Farmer, Wiltshire, was targeted by ‘militant’ vegan activists
  • Owner, Laura Corbett, was sent a post by two moles in a vegan Facebook group 

Campaigners have called for the posting of malicious fake reviews to be made a criminal offence after a gourmet farm shop was targeted by ‘militant’ vegan activists.

Laura Corbett, the owner of the Gourmet Goat Farmer near the village of Avebury, Wiltshire, was horrified when she received a tip off that she was about to be targeted online.

Until then, her popular larder and cafe, which specialises in goat meats and dairy products, had enjoyed glittering reviews from the public, but now, she was told, the vegans were circling.

Ms Corbett was sent a post by two separate moles who had infiltrated a private Facebook group of 650 people called ‘Vegan Wiltshire’, where an activist called Ian Somerville had asked followers: ‘Can we have some negative reviews of this place, please? There’s no way an animal farm should be able to enjoy a five-star rating.’

Mr Somerville appears to have form. His reviews on Facebook have also criticised a family farm in Swindon for claiming to love animals while ‘eating their dismembered corpses’, as well as demanding that a hotel in Hungerford publicly states it is ‘against the annihilation of wildlife’.

The Gourmet Goat Farmer, Wiltshire, was targeted by ‘militant’ vegan activists (stock)

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Sensing what was about to follow, Ms Corbett decided to put the activists on the back foot by going public first, telling the farm’s 3,000 followers on Facebook about the activists’ plot and offering to meet them in person to give them a tour of her farm.

‘I worry greatly for vegans and their long term health and would like to do anything I can to broaden their knowledge of farming,’ she wrote.

Her intervention, she later learnt, caused consternation among the activists in the group, who considered a leak inquiry to establish how their plans were exposed.

Nonetheless, a torrent of negative reviews for the Gourmet Goat Farmer quickly followed on both Google and Facebook in an orchestrated attempt to wreck her business’s reputation.

The Countryside Alliance is now calling for the practice to be outlawed in legislation, by creating a new offence of ‘false communications’.

Gratifyingly for Ms Corbett, the tactics of the vegans spectacularly backfired when supporters rallied behind her and she has since received an influx of positive reviews, as well as a boost in sales.

‘They chose the wrong person and the wrong business,’ she said.

‘What is fairly ironic about it is that I couldn’t really be more friendly to animals, we are providing conservation grazing to animals.’

Campaigners have called for the posting of malicious fake reviews to be made an offence

She admitted it had still been an unnerving experience for her children, to whom explained the situation over dinner, but insisted that it was just one of many occupational hazards faced by modern farmers.

Of the activists, she said: ‘They’re a minority and I pity them, because there’s a world out there in the countryside that is beautiful and it requires animals in the lifecycle for wildlife, for worms, for soil health, for hedgerow management.’

As yet, she has not been taken up on her offer to give the vegans a tour of the farm.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, director of external affairs at the Countryside Alliance, said the Government had so far resisted efforts to include malicious fake reviews as an amendment to the Online Safety Bill, but they were hoping for it to be addressed through the Digital, Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

He said that businesses should be held to ransom by a ‘militant fringe’, adding: ‘The public are massively rejecting these calls for compulsory, plant-based veganism. But the vast bulk of people on plant-based diets don’t behave in this way. It’s not an argument about veganism, it’s about harassment and bullying online.’

He added: ‘It seems perverse that ideologically driven cranks can get away with posting false and malicious fake reviews with such ease, while the victims – legitimate business owners – are left to pick up the pieces and suffer the consequences.’

Mr Somerville was contacted for comment.

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