My experience with a negative review scammer

I just had one of the weirdest nights of my life, 'battling' with a tea reviewer who tried to scam me into paying money and promoting their site in return for not posting negative reviews. The kicker was that this guy had never even tried my teas!

I run a Chinese tea store called the Min River Tea Farm. It's a new business, and I'm starting to get more active on social networks like Twitter. It's mostly a good place to interact with the wider tea community of bloggers and reviewers, and serious tea enthusiasts.

How it started

I was following a user called "FoodBlogTeaShow", run by Brian and Lisa DiVita. It's a video blog where they review teas. A few weeks ago, I started noticing some pretty negative tweets in their stream, things like:

  • “ XXX company's tea tastes like shit...spit spit ”
  • “ dumb tea companies that don't follow us....prepare to fail ”

It's not the sort of thing I need to see in my Twitter feed, so I unfollowed them.

Negative reviews from FoodBlogTeaShow

About a week ago now, I noticed a post from Brian referencing my company, which said something like "anyone tried @minrivertea? tastes like crap". I was pretty shocked for a few reasons. Firstly, so far I've received nothing but positive praise from customers for the quality of the teas I sell. Secondly, these guys are based in California. I don't ship to the US, they've never placed an order, nor ever contacted me before. As a new company, I can probably tell you the first names of all of my customers from memory, and in most cases, I can see how they have arrived through recommendations of friends and work colleagues.

To say the least, I was pretty surprised - I was 100% sure this 'tea reviewer' had never tasted my Chinese teas!

First contact with Brian

There's not much point in grand-standing in public, so I emailed Brian privately, asking him to remove the tweet. I explained that there was no way they'd ever tasted my teas, and that it's not acceptable for them to publicly attempt to slander my business without knowing the first thing about it.

Normally, I find that private resolution is much better, because you give everyone an opportunity to save face and quietly forget it.

The nasty response I got back

The response I got back was shocking. In a poorly written email, Brian DiVita aggressively defended himself, suggesting that there was no way I could prove that they hadn't tried my tea. He then attempted to bully me into (a) refollowing him, (b) retweeting all of his blog posts on Twitter/Facebook, (c) paying money into his paypal account, (d) sending him free samples to review!

At this point, I got mad.

My public response

I went to www.teatra.de, a tea community site where Brian's "Healthy Professionals" blog is based, and posted a forum topic. You can see the full topic thread here, with his responses too. In short, I openly stated that this behaviour was unacceptable, and again challenged the fact that he'd ever tasted my teas.

What I got back on that thread was again, a bunch of poorly written, nonsensical responses. When I openly challenged Brian to show proof that he'd ever tried my teas (an orderID, a paypal receipt, a photograph), he didn't answer.

What I've learned

It left me without a night's sleep, and mildly angry, but otherwise, I think the only consequence of this event seems to be that the internet has another idiot in its midst (Brian DiVita), and I've had a crash course in defending my business against slander.

It's perhaps one of the oldest games around - basically protection rackets. A person in a position of power promises nothing bad will happen to your business, in return for money/favours. If you don't cough up, then they are the very people who cause the damage.

In retrospect, I would have simply ignored his original tweet. Idiots come and go, but I should be more confident that a reputable business like my own can survive that. However, part of me is also quite happy that I challenged this lie - starting a new business has been a huge struggle, but it's certainly instilled a certain instinct in me to be confident about my own abilities and position.

I've also learned a valuable lesson - however angry you are, openness and honesty will always win over in the end. Structure a logical argument, stand your ground, and idiots/scammers like Brian DiVita will expose themselves without you needing to lift a finger.

Update 3 Aug 2011 Thanks to all the great people at HackerNews and other tea bloggers for their positive comments and support. Brian is still posting negative tweets about my company without having ever tried our products (sometimes you never win).

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