BOWIE, Md. (WUSA9) -- The owners of a Prince George's County bathroom restoration and remodeling company say they've apologized, asked for help from law enforcement and reached out to local media in an effort to stop what has become a one-sided war with an online army.
Beginning on October 20th, supporters of a YouTube provocateur known as "Thunderf00t" have been bombarding Porcelain Tub Restoration of Bowie with negative reviews on Yelp and Google, mocking emails and phone calls.
Jenny Keller, a vice president of the company and, until recently, the woman behind the YouTube channel "Laughing Witch" said this started with a letter she sent to the employer of Thunderf00t, real name Dr. Phil Mason, back in February. The letter was part of a campaign to pressure Mason to change what Keller and others believed was anti-feminist and anti-Muslim rhetoric on his popular YouTube channel, which has more than 400,000 subscribers
Mason saw the letters, and subsequent YouTube videos promoting Keller's campaign, as an effort to get him fired, and responded in kind. Mason posted a series of videos divulging Keller's name and business address (she named herself in her own videos), and encouraging his supporters around the world to review the company she leads with her husband, Paul Burns.
"I don't know how to make this go away," Burns told WUSA9 on Thursday. "We've apologized. This has nothing to do with my business. They're really hurting the wrong people. They want to hurt her. She taunted them in the video and said 'you can't hurt me.' Well, yes they can."
Burns said negative Yelp and Google reviews decimated his company's standing online. Calls and emails from would-be customers have dried up. The couple is now raising money online to support their workers should they go under, Burns says.
"We were on the ropes, and we were looking to see blue sky finally. Things were picking up then this came down, the hammer came down," Burns said. "You have no recourse as a business owner. They just, they take these reviews at face value. Its economic cyber terrorism."
Burns has contacted the online reviewing sites, receiving varying levels of cooperation in removing the negative reviews. His appeals to the FBI to investigate what he calls online harassment of his wife have gone unanswered.
Keller apologized to Mason in a video on her YouTube channel, then deactivated the channel, along with her Twitter profile. In an interview Thursday she was chastened, but still angry at Mason, and the blow-back from his supporters.
"So basically, I've been shut up and shut down. And so have most of the feminists on the YouTube community," Keller said.
She is, she concedes, surrendering, in hopes of saving her business.
"Those people seem to be totally dedicated to causing as much harm as they can because we engaged in a political action."
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