In a possible test of the limits of online anonymity, Boston’s Pageo Jewelers is suing a Yelp commenter for statements slamming the store.
The suit, filed July 27 in Boston municipal court, targets “Linda G.,” who left two negative comments on the store’s Yelp page after purportedly trading in jewelry at the three-store chain.
“My husband, myself and some friends of ours were loyal customers of Pageo in Newton, Nantucket and Boston,” says the comment. “Together we spent 100s of thousands of dollars on some gorgeous but definitely way overpriced jewelry.
“I was in a very desperate situation and I sold my diamond ring to [owner] George [Pelz] my wedding ring/engagement ring. I was in an abusive relationship and was very very desperate. I thought I could trust him since I had given him so much business, but basically gave me not even near one tenth of what it was worth.”
Pelz left a similarly blunt response.
“You are a Yelp Terrorist,” he wrote. “How do you respond to a complete fabrication? There is not a single word of truth in the Linda G. post. This ‘story’ is complete fiction.
“I was advised by yelp to not publicly respond to this post and to ‘Flag’ it. They would deal with it within 5 business days. They have not. I hope Yelp does the right thing and remove this libel from their site.”
The commenter then fired back.
“A yelp terrorist!!” she wrote. “One word, LAUGHABLE! I have gone on with my life and want nothing in return I just thought possibly I could help even if just one other woman from being scammed by YOU! What comes around goes around.”
The complete exchange can be seen here.
Legal papers charge libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The case has raised a free-speech issue, as Pelz’s attorneys have subpoenaed Yelp to reveal information about the commenter’s identity. According to a brief challenging the subpoena filed by Public Citizen, which is representing Yelp, the site examined the review and decided to not remove it.
The group argues that Yelp should not be forced to reveal the poster’s name as the store has not met the First Amendment test for identifying anonymous speakers. It contends that the store has produced no evidence that Linda G.’s statements are false or that those false statements hurt its business, despite repeated requests from Yelp to do so.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit has turned Pageo’s Yelp page into a debate over its merits.
Wrote one reviewer: “I’m not saying that Linda was in the right, but you need to take the hit and deal with it. Lashing out at a customer is the definition of unprofessional. Also, NEVER threaten freedom of speech this is America….”
Another supported the store: “It’s about time small businesses start fighting back against slander and libel. How many businesses have been destroyed?… I sold jewelry before…. DUH you do not get anywhere what you paid…. DUH.”
Pageo’s attorney and a Public Citizen spokesperson did not return a request for comment from JCK.