Mob Mentality: How Negative Reviews Equate to Cyber Bullying

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It’s happened again. It’s rather mind-boggling to see how quickly information — true or not — can spread on the internet. Like a California wildfire, the spread of misinformation is poisonous, dangerous, and can do irreparable damage to the reputation of a business. 

Access Specialty Animal Hospital is a critical care, specialty, and emergency veterinary medical provider with locations across California. On November 26, the hospital made a post on its Facebook page addressing a recent issue with fake negative reviews

“Recently, an owner encouraged their 17k+ followers to review us online negatively,” the hospital wrote in its post. “Over 40 negative reviews and some calls to the hospital later, our staff has been threatened with physical violence based on this owner’s perspective.”

The post went on to address the alarmingly high rate of suicide among veterinarians and identified this form of internet bullying and mob mentality as a large contributing factor.

“It’s not uncommon to come across an upset pet owner in our field, especially in an emergency and specialty hospital. We see animals at their worst, and we understand the pain and fear their families feel in these moments of vulnerable uncertainty. Often, we’re able to work with the client to get them to a point where they can reasonably articulate their feelings and issues at hand. But there are many times in which our team members are, quite literally, screamed at, threatened, and insulted. With veterinary suicide at an alarming level, we are making it a point to advocate for mental health services and the appropriate treatment of veterinary employees.”

Negative Reviews Hurt Even if They’re Removed

I went on to the hospital’s main Yelp page to see if I could find any of the reviews that had been falsely posted. When I arrived on the Yelp page, I was greeted by the following messages:

It appears that many of the negative reviews associated with this incident have been removed by Yelp, but the fact remains that the damage had been done. There was no such language posted on the Google pages for this business. This is the potentially devastating effect of mob mentality and a lack of accountability on the part of consumers who feel they can find recourse without responsibility on the internet.

I went in and read a few of the comments on Access Specialty Animal Hospital’s Facebook post, most of which were in staunch support of the hospital. In many of the supporting comments, other veterinarians or techs lamented of similar issues happening with their practices. The reality is that this type of issue happens more often than many consumers may think.

The potential damage that can be inflicted by this mob mentality is without measure: a practice’s average rating on websites such as Yelp or Google Reviews can take a nosedive, potential customers may stop patronizing the business, and employees may experience threats of their own or wonder about the security of their own employment. These are all consequences that a disgruntled customer may or may not realize, but the fact remains that the internet has made it all too easy to spread information quickly, regardless of truth.

Stop Bad Reviews Before They Happen

So what can be done about this problem? For starters, a practice should always do its best to resolve customer issues before that customer walks out the door. While there will always be cases where a customer is simply inconsolable, every effort should be made to resolve the problem that the customer has taken issue with. But once they’re out the door and have whipped out their smartphone to angrily type their lashing review, there isn’t much to be done aside from damage control.

For emergency vets in particular, emotions can run high among customers. In tragic cases, it can be difficult to discharge the emotion from the situation, which is when many customers choose to lash out. In these situations, acting with empathy can help soothe frayed nerves and broken hearts. Bedside manner is important — every employee of every veterinary practice must cultivate a strong, empathetic bedside manner.

“It’s not uncommon to come across an upset pet owner in our field, especially in an emergency and specialty hospital,” Access Specialty Animal Hospital’s Facebook post continued. “We see animals at their worst, and we understand the pain and fear their families feel in these moments of vulnerable uncertainty. Often, we’re able to work with the client to get them to a point where they can reasonably articulate their feelings and issues at hand. But there are many times in which our team members are, quite literally, screamed at, threatened, and insulted.”

Sometimes, even empathy won’t be enough to stop a customer who is charged with emotions from reacting strongly. What practice owners can do, however, is support their staff. Empower them to make the right decisions, back them up when they’re subjected to mistreatment from customers, and don’t be afraid to turn away a client who has the potential to do such far-reaching damage.

Combat the Mob Mentality

Stories such as these are far from uncommon. In fact, today’s technology reliant environment has made them more of the norm than ever before. As veterinary professionals, it is our duty to do our absolute best work to care for the patients in our charge. Working to empower your employees to make the right decisions and standing behind them during troubling times can help bolster your practice for defense against the mob mentality that, unfortunately, isn’t so uncommon these days. 

Access Specialty wrapped up its post by encouraging pet owners to think about the people they are dealing with. “We ask of you, our pet owners, clients, and community members, to remember that the people you are unloading on are people. We are here to help you and sort out any issues—perceived or otherwise—together. Participating in a mob reaction without all of the details of a case, which most often are not shared with anyone but the authorized agents on the chart, is irresponsible. Unfortunately, it is also too familiar in our field.”

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