The advent of the Internet has brought with it an insufferable and oftentimes dangerous ability for people to spew their opinions. Uncensored and dogmatic, the masses now shout over experts – such as well-trained journalists like myself – meaning a select few are no longer able to dictate a sensible narrative. The result is we, as a people, are driven to extremism. To stand on the fence in 2023 is to stand in no man’s land.
There is a tendency to reduce the harm this causes to political division or online misinformation. Doing so overlooks the extent of the entitlement, which is better embodied by the Internet’s review culture. Every product and service is suddenly subject to attack from a faceless army of digital customers. Yes, it increases accountability, and yes, it provides a more accurate, more authentic picture of the product, but what of the countless business owners and creators who are suddenly now liable for their own mistakes?
The answer is, of course, a digital dictatorship. Remove the proles’ ability to review products, remove the proles’ ability to spout their discontent, remove the proles’ ability to say anything whatsoever and adopt a Chinese model of online censorship where sane voices like my own are the only ones allowed.
You might think my solution is too severe, but a quick browse of the reviews on Ocado shows that it really is the only solution. Stupidity is allowed to reign supreme, and minor gripes are legitimised. The site is the personification of the entitled delusion of the Internet. It proves why we need to adopt a tyrannical approach to Internet moderation.
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I’m not against people having a wee moan – it is, in fact, a quintessentially British quality – but the lack of accountability that the online world fosters makes it a completely different proposition to doing so in person. Crucially, if you’re being a twat, you’re not put back immediately in your place. Rather, digital reviews become an echo chamber of self-fulfilling truth.
Take this 1-star review of Heinz Light Salad Cream 30% Less Fat. “I ordered this by mistake,” it begins, unironically, “so had no idea it contained asfultame sweetener. I never eat or drink with artificial sweeteners in, due to them being very bad for your health. Acefultame K is known to be carcinogenic, so I don’t understand why any manufacturers would choose to use it in food or drink. Very disappointing.” Now, I am not a fan of salad cream, and I admire the customer’s commitment to not eating artificial sweeteners, but imagine taking to the internet and slating Heinz for your own mistake. How could you possibly give a 1-star review to a product you did not want? Because the Internet has told people it’s okay.
Reviewing products you order by mistake is in poor taste. Reviewing products you never ordered at all is simply unforgivable. Earlier this year, a user called Sue was so inspired by their general disdain for vegans that she took to the ‘Nurishh Plant Based Vegan Alternative to Camembert’ page to leave a 1-star review, writing: “You get what you deserve. Enjoy, vegans. It sounds really vile!” Frankly, Sue, I agree – it sounds awful – but that’s not the point.
The attack on plant-based alternatives extends to sausages. A bloke called Phil had a go at Jack & Bry Jackfruit Sausages, moaning: “No meat, no taste, no point.” I’m sorry to inform you, Phil, that the “no meat” element is the entire point of this plant-based alternative. In another review of the same product, a woman called Nina seems to have been unable to get the sausages out of the wrapping and threw them away, demanding: “Have clearer instructions or better edible wrapping???”
I will admit that sometimes, even in nonsensical reviews, compelling storytelling exists. One customer wrote in this review of Anchor’s spreadable butter and rapeseed oil combination: “It made holes in my bread, and just wouldn’t move around like you would expect.” Somehow I can picture this perfectly. It stands out among many other reviews, predictably complaining about the amount of rapeseed oil in a specific product designed to have more rapeseed oil in it.
Another piece of good writing is found underneath Colman’s Mustard, where one fine patriot named Dean took it upon himself to outline the decline of a British institution. “Why change a winning formula?” he asked. “Answer – Unilever arrogance. This used to be the very best English mustard, even better than the top-marque names, as far as heat and robust flavour was concerned. Now? Not a chance. Runny, tasteless rubbish. Stay away from this watered-down insult to what was once a national institution. Yet another Unilever cheap, dumbed down pile of mass produced rubbish, aimed at new markets, completely turning their arrogant backs on the loyal customers who made the brand what it once was – respected and honoured. Alas no longer. An insipid, hideous mess. A shadow of its former self. More like a daft American “style” (!) hot dog rubbish. As ever, Unilever don’t give a damn about their customers. They care even less about loyalty.”
Well said, Dean.
On 1 September 2020, the Ocado landscape was transformed by a new 50-50 joint venture with Marks & Spencer. Until then, the site had partnered with Waitrose, stocking their products instead. Ever since, some customers have taken it upon themselves to compare and contrast the two different offerings.
The sparkling water selection has really divided opinion. Michelle, it’s fair to say, is unimpressed by the M&S branded product, giving it a 1-star review for having “Small bubbles” when compared to Waitrose’s water. Another review, titled pH 4.5, said the water used to be fine but is now “like acid…not what I was expecting from M&S quality.” One user admitted, “The water’s nice,” but addressing the multi-pack, criticised the strength of the plastic. “Either make the plastic stronger or leave it out completely.”
Underneath M&S British Seasonal Apples, one user accuses the new Marks n’ Sparks offering of being “made out of hard wood.” Another goes so far as to warn of the potential damage being done to both the Ocado and M&S brands by the reduction in quality. “I have never bought such a bad batch of apples from any supermarket. 6 tiny apples, all with significant bruising inside when cut open, and several have tears/damage to the apple’s skin. It looks like they’ve been kicked round a playground before being sold. Yet another example of the appalling quality of the M&S food being delivered through Ocado – both brands are surely suffering for this.”
To be fair, the customer called ‘architect’ had a point. Annual financial results published last month show that Ocado had £501 million pre-tax loss on the year, its biggest in its 23 years of trading. Since peaking in September 2020, soon after M&S took over, Ocado’s stock has plummeted, including a 65 per cent decline in the last year alone.