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Tim Bonner: Vegan attack on goat farmer backfires

The Gourmet Goat Farmer is a shop and café in Wiltshire specialising - you will not be surprised to hear - in goat meat, cheeses and organic goat milk and soaps. It is obviously a very popular venture which has, until very recently, had a flawless record of top marks on online review sites.

News of the business’s success reached the ears of vegan activists in the county who were clearly threatened by the success of the goat farmer and launched a campaign to attack its reputation through the tried and tested activist tactic of posting fake and abusive reviews on sites like Google and Trip Advisor. In this case the campaign backfired as the owner, Laura Corbett, took a stand against the vegan activists and publicised their behaviour. The episode was not without stress for Mrs Corbett and her family, but the good news is that sales have rocketed as the many sane and reasonable people who support responsible, high welfare farming far outweigh a few vegan extremists.

However, many people targeted by such campaigns are understandably nervous about taking this sort of stand which is why the issue of animal rights and vegan campaigners targeting businesses with fake online reviews has been a major concern to the Alliance for many years. In the modern commercial environment, review sites such as Trip Advisor have huge power over the success or failure of businesses. Activists know this and use the opportunity to target businesses with anonymous fake reviews which can be devastating to their trade. We have spent years assisting businesses to fight these campaigns.

Getting fake reviews removed from sites run by faceless tech giants has been far from straightforward, but the real frustration is that there is no comeback for those publishing lies and abuse on their sites. It is usually possible, eventually, to get fake reviews taken down but there is no mechanism for compensating businesses for the damage done to them or for punishing those publishing malicious lies.

That is why we were disappointed with the government’s original proposals for the Online Safety Bill which did not address fake reviews, and why we remain concerned that despite commitments to address this serious issue, Ministers have refused to accept reasonable amendments to their legislation.

MPs considered the Online Safety Bill again this week as it nears completion and it looks likely to become law without addressing fake reviews. This is a missed opportunity and we will continue to work with a cross party group of parliamentarians to pursue a change in the law which will make activists legally liable for the damage they do.

In the meantime, the 2024 Countryside Alliance Awards are launched this week so it is time to nominate brilliant rural businesses. If you happen to be a customer of The Gourmet Goat Farmer, they would seem to be ideal candidates for the local food and drink category and I am sure the judges will look carefully at what is obviously such a worthy operation.

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