Australians are being asked not to criticise businesses online at this point in the pandemic, in a somewhat unusual request from the small business ombudsman.
Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson has urged people to refrain from posting negative online reviews, citing short-staffed small businesses currently struggling to stay open.
He acknowledges small businesses “are doing their best to serve their communities, despite the challenges that come with having staff in isolation and supply chain disruptions”.
“The best way to support small businesses is to be a kindly customer – patient and understanding, with good and generous intent. Small businesses are run by real people who deserve our respect and empathy,” Mr Billson remarked.
Highlighting that negative online reviews can be “devastating” for a small business, particularly those struggling to recover from a tough couple of years, Mr Billson said: “Just put the phone away. Resist the urge to give that unfair one-star review.”
The Ombudsman’s comments come in the wake of their call for digital platforms to make it easier to remove fake reviews, which was outlined in a submission to the federal government’s social media inquiry.
The Ombudsman said that “these so-called reviews hurt business reputations and cause significant distress to staff and business owners”.
“Unfortunately, small businesses have few avenues for recourse when a fake review is posted, which is why there needs to be a transparent review system in place,” he argued.
Highlighting that Google had acted to protect the interest of the investment application Robinhood by removing hundreds of thousands of fake reviews on its Google Play Store, Mr Billson expressed the belief that small businesses should be afforded similar protections of their interests.
“We recommend digital platforms build tools to prevent fake reviews and be clear about the evidence small businesses need to provide to have fake online commentary reviewed and removed,” he stated, arguing that digital platforms “should be doing more to support the small business community”.
“Small business owners are under enormous strain as they work [to] get their businesses back on track. Fake reviews are contributing to those mental health pressures.”