MARYBOROUGH business owners Ash Payne and Karen Maxwell believe they have been targeted by cyber bullies in a vicious online smear campaign.

The owners of Real Estate Maryborough have denied allegations they posted a photo of a dead snake on their business' Facebook page last Friday.

SMEAR CAMPAIGN: Real Estate Maryborough owners Ash Payne and Karen Maxwell with the pages of negative reviews and comments left on their page after images of a dead Keelback allegedly posted under their page circulated social media. The pair claim it's part of a smear campaign by social media trolls.
SMEAR CAMPAIGN: Real Estate Maryborough owners Ash Payne and Karen Maxwell with the pages of negative reviews and comments left on their page after images of a dead Keelback allegedly posted under their page circulated social media. The pair claim it's part of a smear campaign by social media trolls. Blake Antrobus

The caption of the photo was "Caught this trying to enter a tenants property this morning. Thank god my hubby Ash was there to butcher it for us!! I hate snakes!".

But Mr Payne and Karen Maxwell, who has been a vegan for about a year, believe someone had created an account mirroring their businesses.

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The snapshot was shared hundreds of times by people outraged at the snake being killed.

But Ms Maxwell and Mr Payne allege it stems from a family feud involving a former landlord.

"We woke up to notifications on our page, and this snake post had been posted onto our page," Ms Maxwell said.

Mr Payne said the bombardment of negative comments and reviews, and the posting of the screenshot, was a sign of intent to cause damage.

"You don't know what to do, no-one teaches you what to do when you're being cyber-bullied," he said.

The snake depicted in the screenshot looked to be a non-venomous Keelback snake.

"It's not an original post, it's a screenshot of a post with a link going back to our review page," Ms Maxwell said.

"I'm vegan, I love animals, I would never ever advocate anyone killing an animal, it makes me sick.

"Ash and I aren't married, so whoever has done the post doesn't know anything about us."

Mr Payne also pointed out several grammatical and spelling errors in the screenshot that were in contrast to other posts on their page.

The pair claim the image and negative reviews are part of a targeted campaign by social media trolls to cyber-bully them.

After the image was posted, the pair took to social media in a series of posts to clear their names.

"2 days ago we had a terrible person write some rubbish reviews with false allegations and pure lies to try to sabotage our business and reputation. She got all her friends to do the same," the post read.

"Now they have created a fake business page in our name and placed fake posts on there killing snakes which has resulted in us receiving hate reviews, and hate messages."

One of their posts likened their situation to the cyber-bullying experienced by Northern Territory teenager Dolly Everett, who tragically took her own life earlier this month.

"Thumbs down to cowardly bullies that hide behind their phones and computers to try to inflict pain on other people. This is a really serious matter, people lose their livelihoods and their lives over this stuff #stopbullying," the post concluded.

The couple have since deleted those status updates.

The pair said they had reported the messages and the screenshot to Facebook, the police and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network.

Keelback snakes are listed as Least Concern in Queensland's Nature Conservation Act 1992.

A spokesman from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection said they had not received a report about the incident.



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