Woolworths has denied dispatching a squad of online trolls to howl down users who post complaints on the company’s Facebook page.
An investigation by The New Daily found more than 50 instances in the past two months where Woolworths customers were targeted by the same group of four users after making negative complaints about the supermarket giant.
The examples include posts on Woolworths’ Facebook page, where customers were targeted by the users if they complained about customer service, faulty products or store issues.
The New Daily investigated all four profiles in question, and found one user had a single friend on Facebook – that friend was a person whose job title was listed as a Woolworths social media specialist.
The account with only one friend was responsible for an offensive comment about baby formula made towards an Asian customer who made a complaint on Wednesday.
The comment was only hidden after The New Daily contacted Woolworths to see if these users were affiliated with the company.
After inquiries were made, the user and the person claiming to work in social media for Woolworths were no longer friends on Facebook, and any mention of the employee working at Woolworths had also disappeared from their profile.
The social media specialist’s profile also appeared to be legitimate and active since 2010, with hundreds of likes and several comments from other users on their public photos. That person was not Facebook friends with any other regular Woolworths supporters identified by The New Daily.
A Woolworths spokesperson said the company had never engaged third parties to respond to criticism from other users on its Facebook page.
“We have a dedicated moderation team in place to remove inappropriate content and, where appropriate, ban users who violate our house rules,” the spokesperson said.
The New Daily also contacted and examined the other three profiles in question, with one user appearing to have two profiles under the same name, one claimed they worked at Woolworths.
The New Daily asked the owner of these profiles if they were affiliated with the supermarket giant, but the owner denied it, claiming they had previously worked for Woolworths.
Another user who regularly defends the company online also said they were not “affiliated with Woolworths or its subsidiaries”.
‘Bullied on several occasions’
Woolworths customer and shareholder of 15 years, Kerrie Stewart from NSW, said people were “bullied on several occasions” by users on the supermarket’s Facebook page.
Ms Stewart said she became suspicious after she made a few comments in July about single-use plastic bags, and was attacked by the same people each time.
“I wrote on Woolworths’ Facebook page that I didn’t accept that they cared about the environment as they are selling plastic bags,” she said.
She said she was called a “lazy bitch” for not bringing her own bags.
“On several different posts the same people commented in defence of Woolworths. And the odd thing was that when I looked into some of the profiles, I realised that they were blank profiles with no photos indicating that they’re used for trolling,” she said.
Ms Stewart said she then sent a private message to the supermarket to alert them to the behaviour.
“Woolworths then sent me an email to say that they were going to look into this because they don’t tolerate this behaviour and then when I went back onto their Facebook page I noticed that those trolls had settled down for a while and stopped making comments,” she said.
Although Woolworths strenuously denied it was behind the comments, Digital Eagles marketing agency chief executive Ryan Jenkins said he was aware of other companies that had hired social media users to either defend their organisation’s reputation or put another’s down.
“The real risk with companies doing this is that customers lose integrity with the brand as what they’re doing doesn’t come off as genuine,” Mr Jenkins told The New Daily.
“Some businesses even hire international agencies to leave fake reviews on business pages, but the risk of this is that you can incur penalties on Facebook and Google.
“Companies need to understand that you can’t cheat the system because it can really have detrimental effects if you’re found out.”