Imagine this scenario for a moment: You own a restaurant called the Red Hen, you’re minding your own business, and you wake up one day to a torrent of vicious online rants directed against your establishment—not because of something it did, but because it happens to share the same name of an unaffiliated restaurant embroiled in controversy.
That was the situation for no less than three businesses this weekend after the owner of The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, an incident that Sanders later escalated by tweeting about it to the whole world.
In Washington, D.C., a Red Hen restaurant has been trying to convince swarms of online haters that they have the wrong establishment, going so far as to tweet out a screenshot containing the definition of the word “unaffiliated.”
It’s not a franchise. That’s what unaffiliated means. pic.twitter.com/jVBArm8Kvp
— The Red Hen (@RedHenDC) June 24, 2018
Over in Swedesboro, New Jersey, a Red Hen restaurant there wrote a similar message in a Facebook post that only seemed to stoke people’s anger. “Kindly check your facts before you erroneously defame an innocent business on Facebook in an attempt to destroy their business where they welcome all, irrespective of their race, religion, views or opinions,” the business wrote.
Meanwhile, a Red Hen restaurant in Connecticut seems to have removed its Facebook page altogether, while posting on its Google page that it also has no affiliation with the Virginia restaurant at the center of the controversy.
Online mistaken identity is not a new problem, of course, but it seems to have taken on greater urgency in the age of Trump, where disinformation is the status quo and the volume of our online discourse goes from 0 to 11 in an instant. Indeed, one would think that a response like “you have the wrong restaurant” would be enough to placate those who are out for blood—but alas.
In the case of the D.C. Red Hen, some tweeters simply refused to believe the two were unaffiliated, while others faulted the restaurant for its “cowardly” effort to distance itself from an incident it had no part in. The Facebook post for the New Jersey-based Red Hen has attracted more than 600 comments, with many respondents arguing among themselves about the merits of asking Sanders to leave—again, something this particular restaurant did not do.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the infrastructure of online reviews—on websites like Facebook and Yelp—seems to have no adequate system for preventing online mobs from trashing the pages of these unaffiliated restaurants with one-star rants. Maybe the best thing to do is hold your breath until it’s over, but it’s sad that it’s come to this.