Emma used the same wash-and-fold laundry service at a laundromat in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY for years, and had a bad experience in August. She did what people normally do in that situation: she left them a one-star but respectful Yelp review, and switched to using a different place. Just another day in the free market… until she received a threat by private message that contained her home address.
Here’s what she found in her Yelp private message inbox (it contains some nasty language):
The blurred out part is her home address, obviously. People say terrible things on the Internet, sure, but they don’t usually contain the exact floor that your apartment is on and come from the people who used to deliver your underclothes to your door. She shared her message with Twitter (which is how we learned about it) and her local subreddit. While the account that sent this message wasn’t affiliated with the business in any way, you can’t blame Emma for assuming that it was.
We contacted the laundromat, speaking to the owner and to his son. Both men seemed shocked at the nastiness of the threat and said that they don’t use Yelp, to respond to customer reviews, let alone using it to bully former customers into taking down bad ones. That is not a very well thought-out business tactic. Michael Calascione, the owner’s son who was working in the shop at the moment he talked to Consumerist, mentioned that a worker who had recently been fired had threatened to ruin the business’s reputation online.
The person who sent the threat seemed to have very specific interests, though, leaving two reviews of other laundromats in the same neighborhood, making sure to bad-mouth Laundry on 3rd in both of those reviews. Posting a few bad fake Yelp reviews is one thing, but once Emma shared the threat she received, her complaint against the laundromat left Yelp and spread everywhere. We can’t prove anything definitively, but it looks like the threat came from a person with a grudge against the business. The people who run the business think that they know who that person is. So what happens next?
We spoke to Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy, an attorney who has been involved in cases where a company would like to unmask a Yelp reviewer. He told Consumerist that it is possible to subpoena websites as part of a criminal investigation or a civil lawsuit. The business owners could file a civil suit against the person who made the threat if the police don’t want to get involved, but that would involve hiring a lawyer to sue the person who made the threat.
If this is found to be a serious threat, the local prosecutor would investigate, sending a subpoena to Yelp asking for the information they have about the person behind the account that sent the message. That presumes that the local authorities take threats sent by anonymous (but maybe not so anonymous) people seriously.
Between Emma and the laundromat owners, they have the e-mailed threat, and they have messages from the person they suspect of sending it where that person threatens to mar the business’s reputation in online reviews. Will that be enough for the authorities to actually do something about? We’ll keep you posted.
by Laura Northrup via Consumerist