AFTER weeks of vicious attacks on social media, Irene and Steve Coles, the owners of Urangan restaurant Viva Italia, are speaking out in defence of their beloved business.
It started with a Facebook post on a Fraser Coast restaurant review site, with a woman claiming she had suffered food poisoning after eating at the venue.
The administrator of the site removed the post pending findings from the health inspector.
While the claims were found to be groundless, Irene said damage had already been done.
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A disgruntled former employee then allegedly started a post on another Facebook site claiming Viva Italia had been closed down by the health inspector.
Irene said she knew that rumour had spread throughout the community and it had damaged the business.
"It's devastating," she said.
She said the social media furore had caused many sleepless nights for both herself and her husband.
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Steve said it didn't just affect his family.
It also impacted on their employees, who also had bills to pay and lives to live and would be affected if the business closed or if their hours were cut back.
"Everyone suffers from this online bullying," he said.
In February 2014, Irene was forced to address claims the eatery was infested by cockroaches after another former employee allegedly circulated a video of the insects being swept out of the kitchen after a routine fumigation soon after the Coles took over the business.
Irene reported the situation to police at the time and says she has done so again on this occasion.
Irene said May was already a quiet month for businesses in Hervey Bay, but this year it had been worse than usual for Viva Italia. She blames the impact of social media for the downturn.
"People have told me 'we heard you were closed'.
"A lot of it is Facebook.
"It's a form of bullying we have no control over.
"The toll on one's health and the business is huge."
Irene said she wanted to let the community know the business had been given the all-clear from the health department.
But she also wanted to let people know the impact their words could have when they post to social media.
"There can be serious repercussions when people do this. They need to think before they post."