Part of Blackout Tuesday posting
May 31 screen capture
On May 31 Matt Smith, a PB-based entrepreneur, posted a screen capture containing a string of angry texts disparaging black men. Smith said the author of the texts was Donny Hollis, at the time the owner of the popular Pacific.Beach Instagram account.
"I've known Donny, we've worked together for over 10 years and have a lot of close mutual friends," Smith said in an interview Wednesday night. "One of them is the girl who sent me the messages."
"I owned a smoke and vape shop on Garnet, and we would pay him to post for us because he was the admin of the page. He started to gain a lot of followers and got into business promoting local companies in Pacific Beach, the page really started to grow."
According to Smith, local businesses would pay as much as "a few hundred" dollars for positive attention on the account, which at one point had in excess of 65,000 followers. By Thursday the account had shed more than 3000 subscribers.
After the Pacific.Beach page posted a plain black image as part of the Blackout Tuesday social media campaign intended to show solidarity with widespread protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Hollis's private comments sparked a backlash. Comments on the image were disabled, but calls for Hollis to atone for the words in his text began to appear on other images.
Smith-Hollis exchange afterwards
Hollis initially denied having made the remarks at all, demanding Smith retract his posts before going silent. He did not respond to a request for comment.
"I posted it because I knew that it was real," said Smith, refuting the claim. "I had a lawyer call me yesterday claiming it was fake, I had her take a video of her accessing his name with his phone number showing, go back into the messages and show the texts.
"He direct messaged me as soon as I posted, asking me to take it down and apologizing. Basically he admitted that he wrote it."
By Wednesday the page, along with Hollis's personal Facebook account, were locked and unavailable for public view. Another affiliated promotional site, onlyinpb.com, appears to have been scrubbed of all content. A note on the Instagram account briefly directed viewers to a freshly created account, pacificbeachraw, operated by another local who agreed to purchase the page but quickly backed out.
While Hollis was successful in promoting many local operations, others had long been experiencing problems with his behavior.
"Not only was he promoting some businesses, he was shitting on others at the same time," Smith said.
Mina Desiderio operates The Local bar in PB along with a handful of other San Diego restaurants.
"I noticed the page was very popular, and I'm always looking for new ways to advertise," Desiderio said. "But in following the page, I noticed that the guy who was running it would sometimes just go off. He would slander, bully, harass, and I was left wondering 'How is no one else seeing this?' "
Despite her initial misgivings, Desiderio says that for a period she paid Hollis $700 per month for advertising due to the popularity of his page. The toxic nature of his comments, however, convinced her to part ways.
"If he doesn't like a comment on his page he'll repost it calling you an idiot, a lowlife, and then he'll block you," Desiderio continued. "He's threatened me several times, slandered me all over his page, called me a cunt, picked up the phone and made threats to my child."
Desiderio says it's her goal, along with "maybe 1000 other people," to have the site shuttered permanently.
By Thursday afternoon, Hollis had posted a mea culpa admitting to having made "a very hurtful mistake." While asking for forgiveness from the community, he offered to step down as the page manager. It appears the site is still for sale, though Desiderio and others caution buyers that its reputation may have been irreparably damaged by this point.