Opposition to Hillcrest Business Association's decision to hire a security firm to chase out disruptive homeless people from the community has caused the association to cancel a meeting due to reports of cyber-bullying and online extortion.
"The [Hillcrest Business Association] has regrettably been forced to cancel the upcoming Open House and Mixer on July 28th at Medical Age Management due to threats and cyber bullying," reads a July 23 message on the association's website. "We do not wish to expose our members to more harassment and threats and thus have decided to cancel the event."
The alleged threat occurred on Friday, July 22, when political activist Taylor Gobar posted a message on the Facebook page for Medical Age Management, an anti-aging skin-care treatment center that had volunteered to host a mixer for the business association where the homeless security measures would be discussed.
Gobar opposes the plan to bring in a security detail to rid Hillcrest of disorderly homeless people. She expressed her opinion to the business association and when nothing was done she took to social media and began organizing a protest.
"I disagree with these methods, and have voiced my opinions to the [business association]. Because they are a group of businesses, I figured the best way to get their attention is to use the word boycott and start getting in touch with local businesses via Facebook and phone. I cancelled my plans and let certain businesses know I would not be spending money there while this practice was in place."
On July 22, Gobar posted the following message on the anti-aging center's profile page: "This company is the venue for a mixer for the Hillcrest Business Association on July 28.... This security team is anti-homeless, paid to roust and remove 'undesirables'. It's a heartless attack on people who have nowhere else to go."
Gobar's message drew a quick response. Dr. Darren Farnesi, the owner of Medical Age Management, contacted Gobar and asked her to remove the post. She declined.
Hours later Timothy Rawles, a writer for the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News (SDGLN), contacted Gobar's employer to ask questions about Gobar's position.
Johnathan Hale and Carl DeMaio
SDGLN is owned by Johnathan Hale, the former president of the Hillcrest Business Association. Hale is married to former councilmember–turned–conservative talk show host Carl DeMaio.
Gobar returned to Facebook and mentioned the news organization having contacted her employer. She posted screenshots of previous articles on Hale and his work with the Hillcrest Business Association.
A few minutes later, Hale responded to Gobar. "What you are doing is completely unethical and will be dealt with."
The message has since been deleted.
SDGLN's Rawles then contacted Gobar.
"...I recently saw your [one] star review of Medical Age Management. I'm with SDGLN and wondered about your thought process in giving such a low review. Have you tried the product? I am doing a story on the company and was doing research when I came across your post."
Rawles then asked her to verify her place of employment.
Gobar told Rawles that due to Hale's position, she would not be participating for an article in SDGLN.
Rawles responded, "...I'm not interested in covering the event, just trying to confirm that you are using negative reviews for politcal gain, good or bad, to put a business [in] a bad light. It's an independent story I'm working on. And I'm also working with Medical Age Management on a story as well."
Hours later, SDGLN posted an article entitled, "Taylor Gobar's one-star review appears to be internet extortion to a Hillcrest business: FBI contacted."
In the article, Rawles wrote, "It's a trend, it's real, and it's unethical. It's called 'Internet Defamation,' and I would soon find out one person is using it to threaten a well-respected Hillcrest business into submission....
"In the modern age, social activism against a business has become less about not shopping there to express protest over a certain aspect of society, it has been reduced to leaving one-star reviews for no apparent reason other than to defame a small business into capitulation."
DeMaio soon joined the fray, posting an article on KOGO's website.
"Taylor Gobar disagrees with the [Hillcrest Business Association's] program, but instead of expressing her disagreement through appropriate channels, she opted to post a flurry of negative reviews on [Hillcrest Business Association's] business members’ pages on rating sites. She then issued an ultimatum: either the businesses force a policy change at [Hillcrest Business Association] on homeless issues, or she would continue to post the negative reviews. Umm — isn’t that called extortion, lady?
"It is disgusting that radical activists like Taylor Gobar lash out in inappropriate ways because of their political views. Taylor Gobar is nothing more than a cyber bully. "