When I was a kid I used to love poring over the advertisements for toys, magic tricks, and gimmicks in the back pages of comics. There were two items that myself, and my friends coveted the most – sea monkeys and the 1000 piece US Revolutionary War set. One thing stood in our way and it wasn’t suspicion or common sense – it was the lack of a zip code – something we had absolutely no idea about.

Kiwi kids in the 1970s were not always blessed with an acute understanding of the particular idiosyncrasies of mailing practices in other countries. We knew our  addresses and the countries we lived in – surely that was all we needed to get our hands on the overseas items we wante? Nope. Without a zip code there would never be sea monkeys and there would never be the imagined hours and hours of fun playing with all of the amazing pieces that made up the 1000 piece Revolutionary War set.

“That’s really why scams are successful. Despite common sense trying its very best to set us straight, we reach out for the fantastic and ludicrous, dreaming that it may be true.”

As I’ve grown older I’ve accepted that all of the disappointment about failing to get those things I desired was actually a great lesson in realising that not everything is as it appears. The 1000 piece set was most certainly tiny, badly made and would have failed to ever match up to the hype, or the illustrations in the back of the comics I read. There are no sea monkeys – there are sea horses, but there are no sea monkeys. I’ve come to accept that.

When I read scam emails I am sent or stories in newspapers about people who fall for ridiculous frauds, I often think about sea monkeys and the way we invest so much hope that things will be as they’re presented. That’s really why scams are successful. Despite common sense trying its very best to set us straight, we reach out for the fantastic and ludicrous, dreaming that it may be true.

I read a story today about a restaurant that received 71 negative Facebook reviews  in a day. The Alta Strada Mosaic restaurant in Virginia, US  has “a consistent 4.2-star rating on Google; a 4-star rating on Yelp; and a 4.3-star rating on OpenTable . . . the restaurant only has a 2.6 score out of 5 on Facebook, based on the opinions of 178 people. Unfortunately for Alta Strada, 71 of these people appeared to post one-star FB reviews on the same day: August 18, 2018.”

“Like the faked 5 star reviews with shoddy spelling and writing that come in in large numbers on the same day, these reviews are another example of that ways we are manipulated to believe that things are different they appear.”

These reviews were obviously faked and without a doubt an effort by a competitor to damage the reputation of the restaurant by posting dubious 1 star reviews. While the reviews were from people with Facebook accounts – few lived in Virginia and they could very easily have had their accounts hacked. After all, Facebook isn’t overly concerned with the privacy of the billion people who use its services.

Like the faked 5 star reviews with shoddy spelling and writing that come in in large numbers on the same day, these reviews are another example of that ways we are manipulated to believe that things are different than they appear. Even so, I wasn’t remotely surprised to read the typical robotic response from Facebook customer service when a staff member at the Alta Strada Mosaic restaurant questioned the reviews and tried to have them removed.

“There is no harm in healthy suspicion or leaning heavily on common sense.”

“In regards to the spam reviews, they may be taken down if they violate our community standards. To help clarify what those issues are I have attached a link describing what they are. If after you have reviewed the Community Standards and you have seen that the reviews violate them please let me know what the reviews are and how they have violated policy standards.”

There is no harm in healthy suspicion or leaning heavily on common sense. 71 negative reviews in a day doesn’t look right, and it isn’t. There is no way that such a large number of reviews could be posted by genuine reviewers in such a short amount of time. Even more telling is that every one of the reviews contained no text – only the one star. There’s no such thing as sea monkeys.