One local protester uses extortion through her reviews to hold businesses hostage until they do what she says.
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.
Plenty can be said about social activism, especially in the LGBT community. If the Stonewall Riots had not happened we may have not had the freedoms we enjoy today.
If Harvey Milk had not made a stand for something he believed in, the LGBT community might still be at the mercy of homophobic employment laws.
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.
In a recent Forbes article, they say that 88-percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
The Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) oversees the many businesses in San Diego’s gay neighborhood. It has come under some scrutiny lately for not dealing with the transient situation which had both business owners and consumers concerned.
So when the HBA hired City Wide Protection Services to crack down on the growing problem some people were happy while others were not.
One unhappy activist, Taylor Gobar, a performance marketer who, according to her LinkedIn public profile page says, “Digital is my life,” seems to have an ax to grind with most of Hillcrest, especially those who support the HBA.
Gobar has used her power of social media savvy to defame many organizations in the area, leaving one-star reviews to community businesses that support the HBA, sometimes without actually going into the facility: Rich’s, Bread and Cie, and Crest Café to name only a few.
It recently came to my attention that Hillcrest’s Medical Age Management, a wellness company that can boast a majority of five-star reviews was held within the clutches of Gobar’s single-star judgment.
Gobar’s review states “The security team is anti-homeless, paid to roust and remove “undesirables”. [sic] It’s a heartless attack on people who have nowhere else to go.”
This seemed odd to me. Injecting your personal opinion about a social situation and pasting it into the lifeblood of a business through their review page even though their services were never used, dropping the overall score of an establishment without merit.
Dr. Darren Farnesi, owner of Medical Age Management reached out to Gobar about the review, trying to shake the feeling he was being blackmailed.
But Direct Messaging conversations he had with Gobar, which he shared with SDGLN, show that she was doing just that.
Farnesi wrote to Gobar, “All we are doing is providing a building for them [HBA] to meet in - same as all the other businesses in the area. The subject matter of the meeting is completely out of our control. Please remove your negative review.”
“Hosting is tacit endorsement,” Gobar responded, “You have to [sic] opportunity to publicly denounce HBA at their meeting and online prior to that. Until I see a public statement, the review stays up.”
Again, Gobar has never used Medical Age Management’s services.
In an effort to delve further into the situation and get a response form Gobar as to how a person who is in the profession of helping businesses is so bent on taking them down, I reached out to her through Facebook, and a company I found that she worked for.
She had nothing to say to me other than “You can see on our public event that we are not accepting press inquiries from SDGLN.” I pressed further, only to be blocked from her Facebook interface, and the words, “Sorry, No Comment.”
This did not seem like someone who wanted to give her side of the story. I was doing a story on Medical Age Management and was curious among other things about her weird negative review.
In fact, not soon after I contacted her, she expounded on the Facebook review with articles attacking my publisher Johnathan Hale in a move that I can only guess was to smear him, with stories about his past he says have been debunked.
Hale is married to Carl DeMaio, a gay Republican politician who suffered many slings and arrows through a very tough campaign for California's 52nd congressional district in 2014.
She didn't stop there. After Gobar realized I was doing a story, she posted another review on "Yelp" taking a more personal, condescending tone.
"Doc Farnesi will listen to you but he doesn't really understand what you're saying. It's really too bad because we live just around the corner and walk by here all the time. It would be so convenient to have a decent professional in the area."
This may not be the first time Gobar has taken to defamation as a tactic. In a unrelated case, SDGLN found that she was the defendant in a lawsuit filed by a previous employer ZeetoGroup LLC for a business tort. Although no details about the case are available, business torts, "involve “injury” to another’s business interests. These can include losses of business opportunities, loss of clients, loss of business relations."
From the limited information I could gather, with Gobar not speaking to me and blocking her feed from my prying eyes, it seemed she may be upset about Sonja Stauffer being replaced by Benjamin Nicholls in a 2014 controversy . Gobar would now like Nicholls removed and has taken to giving sub-par ratings to local business owners who do not agree.
The transcript from her conversation with Dr. Farnesi, who explains that all he wants to do is introduce his business to other local businesses, seems to bolster my assumption:
“Doc, I spend a lot of time thinking about whether disrupting "business as usual" and inconveniencing regular folks is worth it,” she responded in her DM to Farnesi. “In the end, I have to focus my compassion for the homeless, the poor, the needy, and the suffering. I know it's not easy for you, but if you were more active in the HBA or had been paying attention, maybe you could have prevented the HBA from doing things that lead to this sort of scandal. In any case, the media is alerted, and we are gathering advocates to be at HBA events. If this one HBA meeting does not result in Nicholls stepping down, then we will be protesting in front of active HBA member businesses & donors such as yourself for more than just one night.”
Funnily, I agree with her tactic there. If Gobar is so emboldened by the plight of the homeless, she is well within her right to physically protest anywhere she likes, for as long as she likes.
Again, as a person who understands Gobar’s passion, I’m still confused as to why, as a person who supposedly makes a living building up her client’s business reputation she would hold a small business electronically and unethically hostage armed only with speculation.
Yet it seems that as enheartened as Gobar is, Hillcrest business owners are not liking the homeless situation and would like something to be done about it en masse.
Many businesses are concerned with transients using their property as a toilet, or constantly littering their businesses with garbage. These are things that can drive customers away.
Nicholls has said that using the security tactic in conjunction with an outreach program would be beneficial.
Last year a pilot program called the Alpha Project ended only after a year of connecting the homeless to services. Nicholls said he sought to expand the Alpha Project throughout the city, and received a lot of support, just not enough.
In my correspondence with Gobar through DMs and emails, she refuses to talk. I would at least expect her to give some sort of solution to the homeless problem of which she is so impassioned, but as of this writing she refuses to explain her solution.
If she would speak to me, I would ask her a few things:
Why are you only targeting Hillcrest businesses? The homeless problem is citywide.
Why do you want Benjamin Nicholls to step down as Executive Director of HBA?
What is your solution to the homeless problem?
Do you have a relationship with Sonja Stauffer?
Your livelihood is working with businesses to promote them through the internet, would any of your clients be upset that you are using your skill to unethically bring businesses down?
Will you continue to extort businesses with bad reviews until they do as you say?
Can you tell us more about the civil lawsuit made against you by a ZeetoGroup LLC, why did they sue you?
The San Diego homeless is a problem, and Ms. Gobar is right to be concerned. In a 2015 report it was estimated that 4,156 people are living on the streets of San Diego, the fourth largest population in the country.
There are many other more useful things she could do to get involved and make a difference in the community. She could join Funders Together, get involved with numerous non-profits around San Diego such as Father Joe's Villages , The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, United States Mission of Transitional Housing, or the San Diego Rescue Mission.
Of course with Gobar pleading the Fifth to SDGLN, there is no way to know if in fact she is a part of any of these organizations.
However, if she is trying to ruin a business with her unwarranted one-star reviews which have no bearing on its services, she may be contributing to the problem.
The hard working men and women in Hillcrest must make a living in order to live in this expensive city and if they lose their jobs because 88-percent of consumers rely on a review from Yelp, then Gobar is being counter-productive.
SDGLN was recently informed that Gobar is only now looking for answers from the HBA. She contacted Nicholls on Friday about the association's involvement with the security project requesting info about spending and contractual agreements as well as the failure of the Alpha Project.
I believe this is something she should have done before assaulting local businesses with petulant reviews.
Dr. Farnesi has filed a complaint with the FBI about Gobar's internet conduct, something the agency makes a priority in this digital age.