Monica Araujo never thought a bad Yelp review would end up like this.
Two weeks after she posted a blurb about a disappointing bachelorette party venue on Long Island, the cyberbullying—in the form of disturbing, harassing, sexually explicit messages—started flooding her Facebook and her wedding website.
“Aren’t you the girl that was giving hand jobs the other night?” one user, who appeared to be linked to friends of the bar’s owner, posted.
“Thanks for a sloppy drunken night, she snorts coke off my c*ck like a champ,” another anonymous user wrote.
“That hand job you gave me in the bathroom was amazing,” sneered a third man, whose social media accounts also linked him to the venue’s owner.
The harassing messages kept coming, as trolls targeted her fiancé and threatened to show up at her wedding. “I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone. I couldn’t believe that it was happening and that it was happening to me,” Araujo said.
Araujo isn’t alone. For years, people have shared horror stories about business owners and employees retaliating over negative online reviews. While a number of patrons have faced lawsuits, others found themselves the targets of wild, threatening rants. Some were even tracked down on Facebook, after the bullies discovered their full names. And one woman allegedly had police called on her because of a negative Facebook review of her gynecology office.
On a lazy weekend in late July, Monica Araujo had jaunted off with 15 other women—including a Daily Beast staffer—to Long Island’s idyllic North Fork. They spent most of the day in the sun, lounging by a pool. It wasn’t meant to be a raucous affair, Araujo says. “We wanted to keep the first part of the bachelorette calm and relaxing.”
Around 10 p.m., the group didn’t want the night to end. They headed for North Fork Taps & Corks, a craft beer and wine bar. And, according to Araujo, the rustic taphouse with a warm wooden interior was mostly empty.
The bartender didn’t seem to welcome the women’s business and was hostile toward the bride-to-be and her sister, Araujo felt.
The weirdness started when the women wanted to take a group picture. The bartender (who Araujo believed was the bar’s owner, Bernadette Buckley) rushed over, waving her arms and telling the bride to stop sitting on a ledge.
After that, a female patron tried to photobomb the bachelorettes, an antic that misfired with some in the group. The bride’s sister told the woman, “It wasn’t funny. We didn’t like it. We didn’t appreciate it.” In response, the bartender allegedly warned the women, “I’m shutting this down… you’re acting like a fucking child. Absolutely not. Not happening in my bar.”
Surprised by the squabble, Araujo walked over to cool things down. “It’s not a big deal,” Araujo recalls saying to the woman. “Everything is over with.”
“Yeah, it’s over with because I have to tell you 12-year-olds how to act in a bar,” the bartender allegedly retorted. “If you don’t know how to act, you need to leave.”
Araujo decided to stop engaging and let the bride decide when to go. Then she did what many a Yelp user would do: She began airing her grievances from the scene.
“I would give zero stars but google doesn’t let you,” Araujo wrote on July 27. “The owner is very rude and nasty. I came here with a bachelorette party with 16 girls. The bar was completely empty aside from 2 people so we definitely were the only ones providing any type of revenue on a Friday night.”
“As designated driver, I was the most sober person at the bar at this point and did nothing except ask [the bartender] not to yell at our group,” she added. “If you want to get yelled at, drink crap drinks (they don’t have seltzer for vodka sodas) and be in an empty bar, then definitely come here! If not, look elsewhere.”
Araujo had no idea her one-star review—which she considers tame—would result in a pattern of cyberbullying, apparently from the bar’s supporters. But two weeks after the trip, a torrent of vile, sexually explicit posts started to flood her inbox.
Strangers stormed the guest book of Araujo’s wedding website and even RSVPed to the event.
“Hey I met you at taps and corks. That hand job you gave me in the bathroom was amazing,” someone named Philip Wilkinson posted, adding some other explicit phrasing. “Then inviting me to your wedding was awesome. Can’t wait to see you again Monica!”
Another man, Jason Huber, referred directly to Araujo’s fiancé. “I thank you for allowing her to go out get sloppy drunk at taps & corks and meet me in the bathroom to blow me,” Huber wrote. “Hats off to you guys for a long lasting marriage! My buddy got one from her as well and we both agree your a lucky sob to have that for life!”
Someone named JD directed his comments to her future husband, too. “Thanks for a sloppy drunken night, she snorts coke off my c*ck like a champ,” the anonymous creep wrote. “Good luck loser, whodafuck would settle for this drunken train wreck?”
Araujo believes the men found her because she also posted a Facebook review of the bar, which has since been removed. “They found where I worked. They were able to find my wedding website. They were able to find all the details to my wedding. Where it is, what time,” Araujo said.
“The fact that they went out of their way to RSVP to my wedding has me scared shitless that they’re going to show up,” she added.
Another alleged bully, going by the name of Rob Garrison, commented on some of Araujo’s public Facebook posts, including one where he asked, “Aren’t you the girl that was giving hand jobs the other night?” (A review of Garrison’s Facebook profile showed a Philip Wilkinson also commenting on Garrison’s posts.)
Meanwhile, bar regulars penned their own Yelp reviews to discredit Araujo. Frank M. of Rockville Centre wrote, “What I witnessed Saturday night Friday July 27th was something I would never want to see again.”
“First they must ban all Bachelorette parties on the North Fork,” Frank continued. “The girls that came in were drunk and unruly and started fights with the regular patrons.”
Tara K. of Floral Park chimed in, “It’s a good bit of fortune when you actually get to be witness to a yelper writing an unfavorable and extraordinarily biased review in real time.”
“The sister of the bride was not yelled at for no reason, she was off the mark, had been asked to take it down at least a half dozen times and was unable to regroup, that was when she was told to stop or she could leave,” Tara wrote.
It’s unclear if the people posting nasty messages to Araujo’s guest book used pseudonyms or their real names. The Daily Beast found a Phil Wilkinson on Facebook who is friends with the bar’s owner, Bernadette Buckley, but were unable to confirm that the Philip Wilkinson who left the harassing comment was the same Phil Wilkinson on Facebook.
When reached on his business cellphone, Wilkinson denied writing on Araujo’s wedding page. Asked if he frequented Taps & Corks, he said, “I’ve been there before a couple times.” He suggested someone was pretending to be him online.
“I go by Phil Wilks. Everyone local knows me by Phil Wilks,” he said, adding that he’s reported the “Phil Wilkinson” profile to Facebook.
Buckley, the bar owner, told The Daily Beast she had “nothing to do with anything online” and that she never responded to the review.
“We were more than cordial to the entire group,” Buckley said when reached by phone, adding that Araujo’s group was threatening other customers and jumping on furniture. Still, Buckley said one of the women hugged her at the end of the night. (Araujo denied that her group threatened anyone or jumped on furniture. “We’re a group of women in our 30s and 40s,” Araujo said. “Forget the fact that many of us were stone cold sober, half of the group have kids so the idea of any of them jumping on furniture is pretty laughable.”)
“All I told her—she needed to behave if she wanted to stay,” Buckley added. “This should not even be an issue. This issue should be done with.”
Garrison didn’t reply to Facebook messages left by The Daily Beast.
Araujo contacted the New Jersey State Police Cyber Crimes Unit, who told her to phone local police if she’s being threatened. She decided not to file a police report, since the bullying appears to have stopped.
“Part of me wants to say if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t have reviewed negatively because this is such a horrible situation to be in,” Araujo said. “But at the same time, I feel like justice needs to be served. And I’m not going to delete the review just because people are harassing me.”
She was disappointed by the responses of Yelp, which she says told her to block her tormentors, and by The Knot, which she says suggested making her wedding website password-protected.
A Yelp spokesman told The Daily Beast, “We take user privacy very seriously and encourage users to report any inappropriate correspondence with business owners or other users to our moderators.” He pointed to Yelp’s Consumer Alerts program, which informs people of egregious behavior from businesses including harassment, threats of legal action toward users, and attempts to manipulate ratings and reviews.
“While situations like this are extremely rare, we have a team in place to investigate and take appropriate action,” the spokesman added. “If users are concerned about their safety outside of Yelp, we also encourage them to consider contacting their local authorities to report the threatening calls and messages.”
Jenelle Marie Pierce was in the waiting room of Wayne Women's Clinic in Goldsboro, North Carolina, when a pair of police officers appeared.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Huh, wonder why they’re here,’” Pierce said of her Nov. 6 doctor’s visit. “Then I think, ‘Wait a minute. I’m the only one who’s caused any fuss whatsoever, but I’m sitting here quietly for my appointment.’”
Only a few hours earlier, Pierce called the clinic trying to renew her prescription for Valtrex, a medication she’s taken for 20 years for genital herpes. She had one pill left, and called the clinic to check on the prescription renewal she’d called in a week before.
The woman on the phone told Pierce she’d have to schedule a physical exam, so Pierce asked to speak to an office manager. Pierce says she spoke to four different women at the clinic, trying to get them to refill her meds. All four employees put her on mute and transferred her to various voicemail boxes, she claims.
“What the fuck am I going to do if I get a herpes outbreak,” Pierce told one of the clinic staffers. She says it’s the only curse word she used during the conversation, and that she wasn’t name-calling or using threatening language.
“This is actually hindering my life. It’s not comfortable and I don’t know how to communicate this,” Pierce recalled thinking of her predicament. “I’m upset. This is valid. Nobody seems to be caring that I need this prescription and I never had an issue getting a renewal.”
Finally, Pierce was told she could come in that afternoon for a well-woman exam. “I hang up the phone and I felt defeated,” Pierce said.
She decided to write a brief Facebook review around 11:42 a.m. that morning, because she felt “like it was crappy customer service” and “ the women didn’t get it or care at all.”
“Rude and incredibly unprofessional office staff. Does not adhere to ACOG and FDA recommendations for well-women visits and prescription renewals,” wrote Pierce, who founded The STD Project website.
Pierce added that the clinic was “run by antiquated, backwoods rural, close-minded women who lack empathy and who are not interested in helping people deal with highly stressful or stigmatized diagnosis.”
Within an hour, the clinic’s Facebook page replied, “Jenelle, we are very sorry we missed the mark. Someone from our office will be reaching out to you to get this issue resolved.”
But when Pierce appeared for her 1:45 p.m. appointment, she says two cops walked in and told a receptionist that the clinic’s office manager had called for them. The manager opened a glass door to the exam rooms and let the officers inside, according to Pierce.
Pierce’s name was called minutes later. As she walked to the nurses station, she spotted the police officers nearby, at the end of a hallway. According to Pierce, a nurse checked her blood pressure, then loudly declared, “Your blood pressure is very high right now,” before reading Pierce’s medications aloud. One medication was for anxiety, which she was no longer taking. The nurse then asked if Pierce had suicidal thoughts or feelings of depression in the past week. “I think she was trying to flag [for the officers] that I was some concern or risk because of those items,” Pierce said.
Pierce said the cops then followed her to the exam room and stood outside the door. Pierce said that when the doctor came in, he asked, “So what happened this morning?”
“You called the cops on me?” Pierce replied.
“We saw your Facebook review and our office staff thought you’d be hostile,” the doctor said, according to Pierce.
The doctor then allegedly informed Pierce she was no longer welcome at the clinic. He gave her a temporary prescription.
After the doctor left, Pierce was stunned and sat for a moment to collect herself. She recorded video of her exit from the exam room and of the officers standing, waiting for her.
“Good use of your time today, huh, gentleman?” Pierce asked.
“We get called. We just show up,” she claimed one cop replied.
Pierce has filed a HIPAA complaint against the clinic, and a citizen’s complaint against the Goldsboro police force. (Police chief Mike West said his department is investigating Pierce’s complaint but declined to comment further.)
“Why would they have gone on with the appointment, if they truly did not feel safe?” Pierce wonders of the clinic. “I think they wanted to humiliate me.”
The clinic did not return calls or messages left by The Daily Beast.
In a statement posted on Facebook on Nov. 9, the clinic wrote, “While we are limited in our ability to comment on this specific circumstance due to patient privacy regulations, we regret that what began as a routine customer service issue developed in the manner that it did.”
“We are investigating internally how and why that happened and will reinforce our procedures to ensure we are best protecting our patients and ensuring a safe environment for everyone on our premises,” the office added.
Online reviews gone bad are hardly uncommon. On Yelp, users have sought help in the website’s forums over retaliation for negative reviews of restaurants, businesses and doctors.
“Has anyone else been harassed by the families that own business after they’ve read a yelp review that wasn't as awesome as they think their business is?” one Texas woman asked. “It’s happened to me several times now and I’m just wondering what else I can do.”
A man in New York claimed a restaurant owner hurled violent threats at him over his Yelp assessment. “Do I have any recourse? I feel like restaurant goers have a right to know that the owner retaliates against negative feedback and was angry enough with me to threaten to choke me. I would never feel safe eating at a place like that.”
Some consumers have gone as far as filing police reports.
Yesha Callahan of The Root detailed how her tepid summary of a Virginia pizza shop led to the manager outside her door hours later.
“Ordered the cheese burger, which was very dry & unseasoned. Also did not come with lettuce or tomato. The zeppoles barely had any powdered sugar on them & were soggy from the styrofoam container. I would suggest sending them to people in small paper bags. Maybe next time I’ll try the pizza,” Callahan wrote in her three-star review.
Just as Callahan was falling asleep that night in April of this year, she heard a knock at her door. Then her phone rang twice with an unfamiliar number. She let it go to voicemail. “Hello, this is [inaudible name], the manager of La Porchetta. I am outside your door. I want to speak to you about your Yelp review,” the man said.
Callahan called cops, and an officer came over to take a report. “After that incident, I’m in the process of securing protection,” Callahan wrote in her essay on The Root. “You’re not going to catch me out here getting ax murdered over a three-star Yelp review. And yes, of course I updated my review.”
Other users have faced lawsuits over their Yelp posts. In May, the New York Post reported on a Manhattan woman battling a $1-million defamation lawsuit from a gynecologist over her one-star Yelp and ZocDoc reviews. She’d claimed the doctor didn’t give her an annual exam and instead performed an ultrasound.
“I gave an honest review of my experience to warn others, and he is trying to silence me. It’s a nightmare,” Michelle Levine told the Post of her tussle with Dr. Joon Song of New York Robotic Gynecology & Women’s Health.
Yelp gripes have also led to restaurant owners and chefs unleashing racist rants and threats of violence toward reviewers.
In 2014, a chef at Cleveland’s Ninja City Kitchen found a Yelp user named Ruchu Tan on Facebook and confronted him about his critique.
The Facebook message tirade, in part, said, “Do not come back to either of my restaurants ever again. Little piece of shit. Come talk to me. Fuck head. Have fun f*cking an ugly Indian bitch behind your ugly Asian bitch’s back you p*ssy motherf*cker.”
“Btw ramen noodles are not made from soba or buckwheat. You are retarded and have no business trying to trash someone’s business when you have no idea what you are talking about. If I ever see you near my restaurants again you will be in trouble. Peace f*cker,” the cook, Bac Nguyen, continued, to which Tan replied, “You really are something man.”
The website Kitchenette reported that after Tan updated his Yelp review to describe Nguyen’s harassment, Nguyen started hashtagging Tan’s full name in Instagram photos.
In response, Tan launched a restaurant boycott page, and Nguyen eventually issued a public apology. “The fact is, I said some really stupid things. I’m genuinely sorry for saying those things. I wish I could take them back, but I can’t. However, I’m here to apologize, and to try to make it right and learn from it,” Nguyen wrote, according to Cleveland.com.
“I did act crazy, irrational, and said some horrible things. I can’t deny that what I did was wrong. However, I am not a racist. I work with and employ people from all different ethnic backgrounds,” he continued, before offering a complimentary meal to members of the boycott group.
Meanwhile, a New York woman claimed a beautician threatened her and her son via text message after she complained on Yelp.
“The girl is beyond rude. She uses wax. Most high level brow specialist only tweeze and trim. I work in the beauty business and i was taken back with her bizarre behavior. Uncomfortable and borderline abusive. DON’T GO HERE. I will never return. She is a BULLY who does brows,” Manhattan mom Jessica Droppa wrote in her November 2017 review.
Droppa claimed the owner of Brows by Victoria NYC—which has since changed its business name—used a burner phone to threaten her. “You ugly a– bitch with a f–ked up nose job when i catch you I’m gonna punch you right in the your face,” read one message, of which Droppa shared screenshots.
“i know where you work out of and where your ugly ass son goes to school,” the rant continued. “you don’t have no man you miserable b**** shaped like an apple.”
“I got a nice thanksgiving surprise for your ugly a**”
The salon’s owner, Victoria McMillan, denied sending the texts. And in a Yelp post of her own, McMillan claimed Droppa arrived an hour early, wearing a “big bow” in her hair, and behaved strangely. She accused Droppa of working on behalf of a competitor.
According to the Post, a second woman reported receiving disturbing missives from McMillan, too: “If you don’t take down your review, I know where you live. I know where you work.”
If the brow specialist did pen those threats, she would meet her match in the Los Angeles-based proprietor of a fried chicken stand.
Earlier this year, Raging Hot Chicken owner Gabe Killian admitted to threatening online reviewers. Apparently living up to his business’s moniker, Killian warned one Yelp customer that he was “gambling with his life” and that he “pissed off the wrong Armenians.”
According to Eater LA, Killian even contacted the user’s friends.
“The fact that your ONE ONLY REVIEW was a negative one means you are a piece of shit. If you like Dave’s and Howlin, spend your time giving them a positive review, you awful human being,” Killian’s text rant read in part.
“What did you expect me to do after reading your review? I already get the best tenders on the market, I can’t upgrade. You’re the idiot who couldn’t taste the quality of the meat.”
Killian also threatened another user over Facebook, according to screen grabs posted by Eater.
“See you soon. Bye. You fucked with the wrong person homie. You better come see me because it’s gonna be worse when I find you.”
Killian told Eater that he believes “trolls” and fake reviewers are behind most of his poor Yelp reviews. “I’ve threatened many people on the internet who have never been to my restaurant,” he said, adding, “I see nothing wrong in telling someone I believe to be a troll to fuck off.”
The drumsticks-slinger was unapologetic about his warnings.
“The threat stands,” Killian told Eater of the first negative reviewer. “If I ever see him, he’s getting knocked into unconsciousness.”
Killian then sent Eater another statement.
“Anybody who cares about me talking shit to a troll is a giant, politically correct, millennial p*ssy. That’s on the record as well.”