Review Spam: a Deadly Online Weapon

This week’s newsletter has two items that prompted deeper commentary, starting with the Headline of the Week:


Especially Since There Was a Public Backlash
San Francisco Restaurant, Facing Backlash, Apologizes for Ushering out Police Officers over ‘the Presence of Their Weapons’
San Francisco (Calif.) Chronicle headline


It Seems Most of the Time, when a restaurant gets into the news for doing something dumb (like throwing cops out simply because they’re cops), it’s some stupid employee who did it, bringing scorn from the public despite the owners’ own policies — and despite them not being there. Yet in the San Francisco case, it was the owners themselves who made the decision and took the action.

“On Friday, Dec. 3,” they wrote on Instagram, “three armed and uniformed San Francisco police officers came in to dine at Hilda and Jesse. Shortly after seating them, our staff felt uncomfortable with the presence of their multiple weapons. We then politely asked them to leave.

“At Hilda and Jesse, the restaurant is a safe space. The presence of the officers made us feel uncomfortable. We respect the San Francisco Police Department and are grateful for the work they do. We welcome them into the restaurant when they are off duty, out of uniform, and without their weapons.

“This is not a political statement, we did what we thought was best for our staff.”

Wait… What?

Out of uniform and without their weapons?! It used to be common knowledge that cops are cops “24 hours a day,” and have a duty to act if they witness a crime. Not surprisingly, public backlash was swift and harsh: online restaurant review sites such as Yelp were inundated with 1-star reviews for the place (certainly mostly from people who had never heard of it before, let alone tried it), further trashing the eatery’s reputation. Which, in my opinion, is what led to the apology, which reads:

“We made a mistake and apologize for the unfortunate incident on Friday when we asked members of the San Francisco Police Department to leave our restaurant. We are grateful to all members of the force who work to keep us safe, especially during these challenging times. We hope this will be a teachable moment for us as we repair and continue to build bridges with the SFPD. These are stressful times, and we handled this badly. — Rachel Sillcocks and Kristina Liedags Compton, co-owners of ‘Hilda & Jesse SF’ Restaurant”.

A “teachable moment” they created by an “unfortunate incident” that they themselves instigated.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association, local TV news reported, said that it was three “foot beat” officers who regularly patrol the area who were looking for a place to rest and eat, but were kicked out, “treated without any tact or class by this establishment.” Yep, in San Francisco, many officers still walk beats, and boy should local merchants appreciate it!

When I was a police cadet in Menlo Park (further down the peninsula), we were asked to walk the downtown beat in uniform (but, of course, without weapons) during the holiday shopping period. Those merchants were definitely outgoing in showing their appreciation. I wonder if the Menlo Park P.D. has cadets do that still. I did check, and the department still has an Explorer Cadet program, which is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, and previously known as Explorer Scouts. The program offers such internships, if you will, in multiple fields. There’s a similar program in the U.K.

One Star. And note the banner across the bottom. (Author screenshot from Yelp.)

Sometimes the reaction of the public is terribly unfair, such as when an employee goes against policy to create such incidents. That’s not what happened this time. When I checked last night they had 849 reviews on Yelp; as of Monday afternoon there were 645, so clearly Yelp removed at least some, though it still shows as a 1-star joint. It will be interesting to see if the place survives.

Note: As I was posting this, I went back to their Instagram page to grab one of the posts to use here as an illustration. Too late: since yesterday the restaurant owners closed their Instagram page. I hadn’t noticed any abusive comments there, but they were probably getting them. So my estimate of their survival has gone down in the past 24 hours …and it was pretty low already. Fair, or unfair? You be the judge.

Then There’s This

Hm: I’m not seeing anything funny about what Whitley described as a “prank.” Of course, I wouldn’t have thought it was funny if he had just startled Mrgan. (Click to Enlarge)

I Looked Up Coastal Firearms on Google after writing the story above, and noticed the customer reviews there, too. The highlighted three on top: “Excellent service, great selection and pricing” (5 stars), “Amazing environment and prices along with very friendly customer service” (5 stars), and “The owner shoots his employees dead” (1 star).

This Glock 17 “Blowback .177 caliber BB Gun Air Pistol” looks remarkably like a real Glock 17 — even to a “firearms expert” — used to kill Mrgan. (Photo: Amazon *, where as of this writing it is $92.49)

Upon deciding to post this story, too, I went back to Google to screenshot those three reviews. The last one was deleted; unclear if by Google or by the poster.

A couple of other 1-star reviews: “I had my Glock 34 upgraded for a smoother trigger pull. He put in new springs and striker. After having problems, I had a certified Glock gunsmith take a look. The springs were put in backwards.” And “The gunsmith marred a brand new $1k scope during installation. It’s a hunting rifle so, the scratches weren’t a big deal. However, I was unable to hit a 24×24 target at 100yds, after being told by coastal that the firearm had been bore-sighted. It turns out that the ring screws weren’t tightened correctly (and a couple were stripped) causing the rear of the scope to sit high.”

So yeah, assuming Whitley has been the owner all along, putting “firearms expert” in quotation marks expresses a valid, if somewhat subtle, opinion. No one has to be an “expert” to know the “basic rules of gun safety” propounded by the late Col. Jeff Cooper (U.S. Marine Corps), who was an actual expert on gun safety:

  1. All guns are loaded.
  2. Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until on target and ready to fire.

Maybe #4 should be “Don’t be stupid.”

“In the Navy SEALs today,” writes American Rifleman magazine, “Cooper’s rules are so sacrosanct that a single violation of Rule Three can be enough to get you kicked out of a platoon and sent down to ride a desk.” Or, as Whitley is accused of, violation of all four rules being enough to be kicked out of society to ride a prison cell.

Review Spam

No especially profound thoughts about the topic, but just like guns, reviews can be used as a weapon; they definitely can be deadly to a business. Like guns, sometimes the shots fired seem justified, and other times not. And (like guns!) the shots are often cowardly.

P.S.: Don’t even think of giving your kid one of those Glock BB guns. If a cop sees someone playing outside with that, they could very well be shot to death — and it will be ruled justified.

* FTC Notice: If you buy products through links on this site I may receive an “affiliate” fee, which does not affect the price you pay. Details on True’s Privacy page.

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25 Comments on “Review Spam: a Deadly Online Weapon

  1. A friend of mine told of a restaurant in Detroit that had booth, table and counter seating. When 11 Detroit police officers came in and sat at the counter, all plain clothes, he even knew which section of the department they worked for. Well the armed robber came in… and left in handcuffs.

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  2. Rule #4 is: “Be aware of what is on the other side of your target”. 😉

    That is Cooper’s 4th rule, yes, but do you think that’s more important than “Don’t be stupid”? -rc

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  3. Too many years ago to think about, I was working in a small special-Ed school for “drug-dependent” minors. A deputy sheriff visited to give the kids a talk about police processes vis-à-vis their juvenile status. The deputy was armed with a holstered firearm. I was (silently) freaking out! IMO, she had no business bringing that weapon into a school, especially one where some of the kids had had bad experiences with guns. So I am sympathetic to the owners.

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    • Me too. I wouldn’t be thrilled at seeing armed people come into my business if I owned one. But these are strange days. Can’t possibly suggest cops aren’t heroes even with all the evidence that sometimes they kill people for no reason. If I owned a restaurant I would have a no gun rule, whether cop or civilian. But these days that gets a business flamed.

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      • Your statement on *what* gets a business flamed is ambiguous — having a gun rule, or not having a gun rule — but it suggests that you are judging reviewers and the reason you don’t have a gun rule is purely the fear of blowback. How does having armed people come into your business threaten you? Unless they have weapons drawn and are demanding money, which is a different thing altogether. Do you seriously think a police officer — or armed civilian — is going to walk into a shop with their guns holstered and then start shooting? That’s just not rational.

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        • Call me irrational then. If there are guns around, a shooting is more likely than if there are no guns — mistakes happen, guns get dropped and a bullet gets fired; a toddler grabs one and shoots their parent; guns aren’t always safely holstered. No guns in my shop (if I had one) — no one gets shot. As this post shows, implying that police officers are not perfect can get a business flamed. Business have failed due to bad reviews.

          I’ll refer you to my previous reply (which wasn’t there when you write your comment). -rc

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    • You’re an idiot.

      Sorry, there’s no other way to put it. Anyone “freaking out” or even “uncomfortable” with the presence of a holstered firearm in the control of a trained professional has no place in society.

      I’m pretty liberal in general — without being a complete moron about it — but as a former firearm owner with a bit of common sense I find hoplophobia utterly contemptible. Perhaps, since I don’t live in a country that experiences frequent mass shootings, I am the one being irrational; but I find myself “freaking out” when I see characters in TV programs expressing the emotions described in this story. It smells an awful lot like attention-seeking drama queen vibes.

      I had to think about whether to approve this comment due to my preference to not sponsor name-calling. So I’ll say please work harder to call out illogic (or the lack thereof) in others’ positions rather than engage in name-calling, or what Paul Graham called the lowest type of argument in a disagreement (beneath ad hominems).

      Hoplophobia is constructed from the Greek ὅπλον – hoplon, meaning (among other things) “arms,” and φόβος – phobos, meaning “fear.”

      “I coined the term ‘hoplophobia’ in 1962,” said Col. Jeff Cooper, who is mentioned above with the concept of his basic rules of gun safety, “in response to a perceived need for a word to describe a mental aberration consisting of an unreasoning terror of gadgetry, specifically, weapons. The most common manifestation of hoplophobia is the idea that instruments possess a will of their own, apart from that of their user. This is not a reasoned position, but when you point this out to a hoplophobe he is not impressed because his is an unreasonable position. To convince a man that he is not making sense is not to change his viewpoint but rather to make an enemy. Thus hoplophobia is a useful word, but as with all words, it should be used correctly.” -rc

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      • In response to Randy’s reply — yes, I agree, that post did (kinda) look like posting while looking through a red mist, but I honestly couldn’t find a better way to express my feeling on it. Apologies to you and to everyone I judged. I still find irrational fears stupid but I agree with Cooper that you often can’t use rationality as an argument against emotionality.

        I read Cooper’s book in which he wrote the above on “hoplophobia” so long ago I had forgotten he coined the word himself. While posting the previous comment I wanted to check the spelling and found out that it is still not an “English” word (as accepted by dictionary compilers such as OED or Merriam-Webster) although lots of blogs and other web sites recognise it.

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  4. I thought any “toy” gun was required to have international orange on the barrel somewhere. That was supposed to help law enforcement tell the difference, although it was often so small as to be invisible. But in the photo above, not even the sight pin is orange. Did that go by the wayside?

    And since when is a BB gun shot point blank a “prank”? Yes, I do know someone who lost and eye to one as a kid (name available to Randy upon request). I hope the widow sues and gets every penny.

    I think she will, and will. There are “toy” guns and there are “non-lethal” guns, like pellet guns, and the rules are different. There are also training weapons, often used by cops (e.g., training to frisk and/or disarm a suspect): those are usually solid blue in the exact same size and shape as the guns they represent, but with no possibility of misfires because they’re solid plastic. -rc

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  5. As for the restaurant, I suppose if your goal is to hire parolees to help integrate them back into society, there might be some uneasiness. But part of that integration needs to be seeing cops as something other than the enemy. There seems to be an irrational fear at work re: guns in this case, not unlike the irrational behavior of some gun owners who like to “joke”. I still don’t understand how a display gun could have a round in it. There are sooo many safety violations wrapped up in that story.

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  6. A “firearms expert”?!?!?! Yeah, sure. (smh) The “prank” was stupid & clearly dangerous, not noticing that he’d grabbed the wrong gun makes him an idiot, and keeping a *LOADED* gun in the display case (O-M-G!!!) was idiotic & moronic. He *deserves* whatever prison sentence is imposed.

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  7. When I read this, I wondered whether the “prank” was an actual prank vs an alibi for intentional murder. Were there *any* other loaded weapons in the display cases? It seems convenient that the loaded weapon looks just like the supposedly nonlethal one he was supposedly unable to distinguish from it. And I don’t know about BB versions of handguns, but the BB rifles I used at summer camp were much lighter than the ones with live ammo.

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    • I had the exact same thought. I’ve known gun store owners, and they NEVER put ammo in the weapons. EVER. And though I’m no expert on replica BB guns, I tend to agree with you that a so called gun expert would know the difference in just the feel. This whole situation reeks of a crime of passion hastily covered up to look like manslaughter.

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  8. The Coastal Firearms story bothers me greatly. Even if it was a BB gun, why was it pointed at the victim’s face? You could put his eye out. Also, the weight of the gun should have been obviously heavier, even if the barrel was smaller in diameter. I think he got away with first-degree murder.

    Note: this message was entered onto the page before the previous comment from Richard in Maryland was approved. Interesting! -rc

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    • I was taught a simpler version of the gun safety rules:

      1. The gun is loaded.
      2. The gun is loaded.
      3. The gun is loaded.
      4. The gun is loaded.
      5. The gun is loaded.
      6. The gun is loaded.
      7. The gun is loaded.
      8. The gun is loaded.
      9. The gun is loaded.
      10. Never point a gun at anything you are not willing to kill.

      A good set of rules. -rc

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  9. What would have happened if a customer had asked to see the gun in the display case and “accidentally” shot the store owner? For that reason, I would be checking my display weapons regularly if it was my store.

    Presumably — knowing what it was — the store owner would say “That’s a BB gun” and show him a real one. Assuming he remembers, though it’s not clear given the circumstances that he would. -rc

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  10. Re: Costal Firearms. I have been in many sporting goods stores that sell firearms as well as gun shops in different states. I have never known of a loaded gun being put in a display case. You never know who might come in.

    It’s difficult to find logic in obliviocy. -rc

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  11. Only a criminal would feel uncomfortable to have police in their place of business.

    I don’t agree. I think if you were Anthony Diotaiuto’s brother, you would have very justifiable reasons for feeling uncomfortable with police coming in — to provide just one example that’s available on this site. -rc

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  12. Forrest’s mother accurately noted, “Stupid is as Stupid does.” As a long term gun owner (and liberal Democrat living in SW Louisiana — ain’t that a contradiction), I was appalled at the stupidity of the “gun expert.” And question the possible motivation reported in the story, as have other commenters. There was a gun store shooting incident in my home town several years ago, fortunately without a fatality. Although not the result of a “prank” by the shooter, it was nevertheless a failing of the very first rule: ALL GUNS ARE LOADED. Again “Stupid!!!”

    As to the the lady with hoplophobia, a holstered weapon, properly secured by a professional law enforcement officer, is not something to fear. Any firearm is a tool; any danger that may be attributed to it is not inherent in the tool; it is factually dependent on whose hand is controlling it.

    “It’s impossible for liberal Democrats to be long term gun owners!” Wrong! You may have blown a few minds there, Bill. -rc

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    • Regardless of political affiliation or gender, if you live in the Southeastern US, you more likely than not own a gun! Deer hunting, et. al.!

      And I graduated from the University of Alabama too!

      You know that, and I know that, but so many will be surprised. -rc

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  13. I realise I live in a country with a very different attitude to gun ownership, but I can’t actually see why a private business cannot say that they want their space to be gun free. You have to be blind not to be aware of some of the very serious cultural and training issues in some local police agencies (search Aurora Colorado, or Baltimore, MD). I think a simple sign in the window, saying this store does not allow guns on the premises should be a perfectly reasonable position, not much different from no shirt, no service.

    I avoid places with such stickers: here’s why. Still, I support their right to post such a sign. My understanding, though, is that they didn’t, and made it retroactive (as it were). -rc

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  14. “Stupid is as stupid does.”

    Perhaps someone should tell Alec Baldwin that. He seems to have violated all three of Col. Cooper’s rules, and an innocent woman is dead because of it (AND the foul-ups of multiple others). You may be a big star, you may belong to the “correct” political party by the “entertainment” world’s standards, but neither the gun nor the ammunition care.

    I agree with the proposed #4, “Don’t be stupid”, and would add my own #5: “Gun safety comes down to you if you’re handling the gun; check it yourself.”

    As for the “firearms expert” who shot and killed his employee, he’s the kind of obliviot who sets his cause back an untold amount. I can’t tell you how awful I feel for the victims in these “I didn’t know it was loaded” cases. Yeah, as if the shooter saying that brings anyone back to life. CHECK IT YOURSELF, MULTIPLE TIMES IF NEED BE.

    Hear hear. While I feel for Baldwin for being misled (assured the prop gun was “cold” — unloaded), it’s still best to not point it at a human — no director/cinematographer ever need to require that. Hell, actors have been killed by guns loaded with blanks (e.g., Jon-Erik Hexum), so gun safety rules still apply. Any actor working with guns needs to be well briefed on gun safety for every film. -rc

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  15. One thing I keep running up against is this idea that “The US” has a culture. Someone in rural Maine is going to be very different from someone in downtown LA is going to be very different from a Kansas farmer is going to be very different from … We do *not* have a monolithic “American” culture from coast to coast. Yet that doesn’t seem to get into the heads, especially of non-Americans, but still of many Americans as well. They think that where they live is like everywhere else in the country.

    Different places have different risks and different mindsets on how to deal with those risks. We have one country that is almost the size of all of Europe with 44 countries and no one would think that they are or should be expected to be all the same. Then add to that the fact that many, if not most, European countries are made up primarily a single homogenous culture while the US is almost *defined* as the melting pot of dozens of different cultures and sub-cultures and their interactions.

    We started out as 13 sovereign States who decided to federate for most international and a few national purposes. We now have 50 States. 50 States who have, according to the 10th Amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” the primary political responsibility to and for their respective citizens.

    I suppose it’s only to be expected of human nature to have those in power at any given time to gather as much more power as they can in their own hands when they have the ability to do so. Those who are in power at any given time ignore the 10th Amendment and its meaning and those who are out of power to immediately remember it … until they are in power again. And power once taken is never all given back. Nor, really, is it ever taken with the intention of giving it back. And, as Mao said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

    So does the power of self defense, whether against a dangerous animal (and humans are the most dangerous animals to other humans) or against a political system desired or designed by humans. *That* is the purpose of the 2nd Amendment.

    Which is discussed in a different but similar way in this blog: Guns in America: Why?

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