PICA #018

Cattelan's finger.

The art of being N°1.

A restaurant in a shed reveals what unverified public opinion is really worth.

Oobah Butler’s description on Linkedin states: “I’m a freelance writer of articles and short stories…I live in a shed in South London.” Oobah’s abode recently become famous as “The Shed at Dulwich” a pretentious-exclusive-trendy restaurant that, in November 2017, was ranked N°1 of 18,092 London restaurants on TripAdvisor. Subsequently, an entertaining article, by Butler, on VICE dot com revealed that the restaurant was a hoax.

“The Shed At Dulwich” is part performance art and part investigative journalism. It’s a great story that comments starkly on the “Emperor’s new clothes” syndrome that inevitably afflicts social media. Because, while Mr Butler is obviously a media-savvy person with a creative entourage (whose meticulous preparation of “The Sting” would have made Henry Gondorff proud) the insight that gave him the idea came from his previous professional experience writing fake restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor for £10 a post.

That is the real problem: the fact that every system that exists thanks to unverified user-generated-content is vulnerable to being unscrupulously corrupted for personal gain. TripAdvisor told The Telegraph in a statement about Butler’s stunt that: “the company uses state-of-the-art technology to combat fraudsters trying to influence the ratings of real businesses, and that the difference between reviews from real customers and fake customers tends to show which ratings are real”.

The jump from fake reviews for real restaurants to fake reviews for a fake restaurant was audacious but brief and in taking that leap Oobah Butler has proved conclusively that in the battle between state-of-the-art technology and the art of the fraudsters the later are number one.