Toronto neighbourhood home to Jewish businesses targeted with negative reviews
At least 24 local businesses in a traditionally Jewish part of town have been the targets of mass one-star reviews on Google.
The businesses, most of them restaurants, are primarily on or around Bathurst between Lawrence and the 401. At least 16 of them are Jewish-owned or kosher businesses.
The Chicken Nest, a kosher restaurant that has been serving the community for over 30 years, was one of the businesses that received a suspicious onslaught of one-star reviews on Google within the last two weeks.
“Some places that are not even kosher were hit by the fake reviews just because they had an owner with Jewish-sounding name, or a Jewish owner,” says Chicken Nest owner David Magazzinich.
A few blocks aways, non-kosher bakery Goûter Patisserie was also bombarded with single stars.
“We noticed that a couple of people who were leaving one-star reviews were not just leaving them for us, but were leaving one-star reviews to our neighbours, and businesses on the same street,” says Goûter co-owner Bianca Mazzi.
Magazzinich says that this kind of negative behaviour towards his business is not new.
“Every two months we get calls from blocked numbers,” he says. “They're like ‘Hey dirty Jew’, or ‘F you dirty Jew.’ We've even had pennies thrown at our window.”
Toronto saw a 51 per cent spike in hate crimes last year, with members of the Jewish community reported being the most victimized group, and the mayor recently met with Jewish groups to discuss the rise in anti-Semitism in the wake of increased tensions between Israel and Palestine.
But some businesses that were affected were not kosher or owned by Jewish people, including Goûter Patisserie. Mazzi and her partner are not Jewish, and she suspects that the people leaving the fake reviews had used Google Maps to find and target a Jewish neighbourhood.
“The people who were leaving the negative reviews were from users who lived halfway across the world, they're not even from Toronto,” said Mazzi.
Mazzi had received notification from Google about a one-star review on the weekend of May 24.
And then they kept coming.
She then looked into other businesses in the area who had gotten recent reviews, and noticed that lots of businesses in the area had gotten similar no-comment, one-star one star reviews within the previous two weeks, some on the same day as she did.
She then noticed that the same people leaving those reviews had been leaving one-star reviews for different businesses within five minutes of each other. She also noticed that those reviewers had only been actively giving reviews for the previous the past two weeks.
“Once we realized that just the area was being targeted, versus just being an actual problem with an order we received, then we saw everything in the larger picture of what was happening,” says Mazzi.
Flagging it for Google was difficult, says Mazzi, as marking one-star reviews with no comment as racist would not be picked up by Google’s reporting system.
But they did eventially manage to get them taken down, and both owners say that's thanks to the many people in the community who reported about fake reviews to Google.
Mazzi says she was glad to be able to alert the public to these incidents through social media, saying many businesses affected are owned by older-generation owners who are not active online.
“They would not have been able to reach out to the community in the same way and highlight that this is happening,” she says.
“We're happy that we were able to do this so at least we could bring it to everyone's attention."
And though her business was bombarded by bad reviews, she says she has not lost any business. In fact, they have had customers stop by over the past weekend to check in on how they were doing.
“The amount of messages we've received has been overwhelming,” she says. “The fact that everyone was so loving and welcoming and willing to stand up to this type of behaviour was humbling.”
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