Local Business Owner Strong-Arming Bloggers?

Photo courtesy of
‘Soda jerker flipping ice cream into malted milk shakes. Corpus Christi, Texas (LOC)’
courtesy of ‘The Library of Congress’

News came in overnight that David Shott, the owner of yet-to-open Du Vin Osteria at 14th & Florida, had threatened two local bloggers – Prince of Petworth and U-Street Girl – with legal action unless they removed comments from their blog entries concerning his new establishment.  The strong-arming appears related to comments made by a former Union Row Resident, who was reminding readers of a 2008 interaction with the Union Row community by Mr. Shott. Mr. Shott’s threat of legal action is an empty one, as comment forums provide the blog owner, but not the commenter, safe harbor under the Communications Decency Act.

We have requested comment from Mr. Shott by email, but have not received one.

Generally, we consider it in poor form to strong-arm bloggers concerning the comments that are posted on their site, as it stifles an open community.  This is a place to engage your customers, not threaten them.

As a precaution, I would point everyone to our comment policy before they decide to write in below. We will also note that the comments are the property of their author, and not of We Love DC.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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32 thoughts on “Local Business Owner Strong-Arming Bloggers?

  1. @IMGoph, we’ve been in contact with the original commenter and hope he may post something on this entry to enlighten us as to what was stricken.

  2. IANAL (yesterday’s tweets notwithstanding), and I wasn’t a party to the original incident, nor did I see the now-deleted comments, but I do know that such a threat is almost certainly just a nuisance, albeit one that most bloggers wouldn’t have the money to fight.

    For something to be libelous it has to be both untrue and damaging. Shott clearly thought the comments were damaging, but it’s hard to know the truth without having been involved. But by making the threat of a lawsuit, Shott has already indicated the sort of business owner he is, and because of that he’s going to lose in the court of blogger opinion whether or not the deleted comments were, in fact, libelous.

    As for the deleted comments, sadly, even getting to the point that the safe harbor protection applies to you requires more resources than the average blogger has available. Giving up is often the cheapest and easiest recourse available, making it the right choice for a blogger even if it’s not the right choice for a society.

    But that’s the way our society “works” now, isn’t it?

  3. This is really a shame. I left a longer comment for U Street Girl expressing my support, but as someone who lives right across the street from this restaurant location and has been anxiously awaiting news of what will be opening there, I’m sad to say I will not become a new customer.

  4. I want to thank everyone out there for the support. I appreciate We Love DC as well as DCist for highlighting this issue.

    I have been in touch with Citizen’s Media Law Project regarding any legal counsel should it become necessary. Here’s hoping it’s not.

  5. Tom,

    I’m the original poster of the comment on U Street Girl. About 1 1/2-2 years ago, David tried to open up a wine shop in Union Row. He wasn’t granted a beer/wine license because he was going to be too close to Yes Organic Market who was already approved for a beer/wine license.

    As a result of this, he felt the need to send out an email to the Union Row residents newsgroup, lashing out at all the residents. Calling them commoners, idiots, etc…. Honestly, I think he may be a very unstable individual. He also threatenned a few of the residents. He ended up getting removed from the newsgroup.

    I posted a comment on the blog, letting Union Row residents know who the business owner was, and reminding them of his insults so they would reconsider giving him their business.

  6. We’ll happily pile on against Shott for his idiotic tirade. We should hold him accountable for the comments of his (hopefully few) patrons at Du Vin.

  7. I wanted to mention that bloggers who get harassed like this but can’t afford legal representation should contact the local state bar association. They can help you connect with lawyers who would be willing to help you pro bono.

  8. I have no idea what the backstory is with this story but I do not have any problem with businesses asking sites to take down inflammatory comments if it looks like the comments were written by children (OMG, THAT PLACE SUCKS, etc…) or written by someone who is writing just to inflame.

    Businesses rely on comments and one bad one can cause a few people not to go there.

    Of course negative reviews are allowed but there is nothing more annoying, imo, then someone writing something incredibly inflammatory when there is a backstory that has nothing to actually do about the business

  9. I love justice. I met Shott a few years ago at one of those Metropole parties. He was a complete horses ass, and was railing about something very publicly that I knew to be untrue. He had no problem defaming someone in public to suit his mood. I hope he gets his comeupance. Glad I know to avoid his store.

  10. Is this what happened?

    1. Someone post a comment on U Street Girl’s blog in response to a post about a new wine bar.

    2. I have not seen the comment. But if that comment involved a prior history, a grudge, a personal dispute, perhaps an allegation, with the wine bar owner…

    3. Most media sites would remove a comment involving a personal/business dispute because they violate terms of service.

    4. The wine bar owner sends a removal letter, and that can be an especially troubling event for a blogger with no experience or resources. But, at its core, was the lawyer’s request/demand unreasonable in the context of what was written? (We don’t have the answer).

    5. I have no stake in this. But instead of everybody bashing the wine bar owner, reasonable people ought to step back and assess how this could have been handled better. And I don’t think the answer is so simple.

    6. No one allows all comments to stand — racist comments, personal threats, etc are always removed and are clearly harmful. But what constitutes harm? If I write that someone is unstable, isn’t that offensive, harmful?

  11. Think again, #3? Huh? Half of my zoning complaint posts are involving personal (on my part)/ business (developer’s part) disputes and I seriously doubt they violate terms of service from Blogger or my web host.

  12. Actually, we now do know what was posted. A commenter posted a reminder of the business owner’s past behavior in a more or less public forum. The business owner took exception, and instead of politely asking the blogger to help him out, he immediately leapt to spuriously threatening legal action to intimidate her, even though he would have no hope at all of prevailing in court.

    The answer is really quite simple: If you write that you THINK someone is unstable, or that someone SEEMS unstable, it’s your opinion, and therefore not libelous, and in any case the person who runs the site you post it on is not legally responsible for your actions. Nor would it be particularly harmful- unstable restaurant owners are a dime a freaking dozen in DC and most of them manage to get through the day without pissing off the neighborhood bloggers they depend on to generate buzz around their establishments.

  13. Think again,

    You don’t know the context of the comment and I appreciate you saying that (though if you read Andy’s comment above – the original commenter – you will). And I don’t think asking me to remove it was out of line. I think stating that if I didn’t remove it he would pursue legal action was out of line. And I removed the comment, mostly for fear that I couldn’t afford to defend myself if a suit were to take place. And as others have linked to, the U.S. Code is pretty clear on this: I’m not liable for what others say on my blog. So, there’s background if you want it.

  14. Mari,

    I don’t know a thing about your zoning complaint. But if I wrote a post about a new restaurant, and then someone posted a response about a completely unrelated, an unrelated allegation, I would kill the comment.

    But that’s beside the point. Some of the comments above are just plain insults, and apparently that’s not a problem?

  15. @20:

    Again, please read our Commenting Policy which is clear about what will and will not stand here. None of the comments above are direct attack on another commenter, nor are specific enough to warrant action.

    None of the language here could be construed as threats to Mr. Shott’s person, nor physical harm to his business. The vitriol here is coming due to Mr. Shott’s bullying of two local bloggers by threatening legal action instead of using polite requests.

  16. @ think again -

    The bottom line is the guy acted like an ass and that’s what people are reacting to. U Street Girl was giving free pub to Du Vin Osteria, his soon-to-open wine bar. When he didn’t like what a commenter wrote he contacted her and immediately threatened legal action against her if she didn’t take it down.

    The exact nature of the user comment is irrelevant. David Shott DID behave like an overbearing, arrogant jerk. He should have approached U Street Girl in a friendly way and I suspect she would have been willing to accomodate him.

  17. U Street — for sure, the lawyer letter was an overreaction.

    I agree. It could have handled a lot differently. A polite note with a request for the removal and reason why would been great instead of the threat of a lawsuit.

    The reason I was making this point on this blog, was because WeLoveDC is evidently allowing this thing to run amuck and allow comments to stand that are direct personal attacks.

  18. Tom,
    That’s a call isn’t it. One commenter above is alleging that the man “may be a very unstable individual” — and that conforms to your terms of service?

  19. And if you do think again about that comment — and you really, really should — please remove mine as well.

  20. think again -

    And that’s all I’m saying. I say the exact thing in my post about what happened, if you read it. Plenty of others have called Mr. Shott things that I have not – and while I might not disagree – I’m not saying any of these things, so I’d appreciate it if commenters don’t ascribe what others are saying to what I believe.

  21. @24 – the full quote is “Honestly, I think he may be a very unstable individual.” Which means it’s an opinion of a commenter. Opinions are welcome here. Andy is responsible for his opinion, and you’re welcome to take issue with Andy, and not with us.

    I welcome countermanding information or character reference. None is forthcoming, so far.

  22. @26 – What’s to remove? Andy stated his opinion on the matters, and related valuable relevant history concerning Mr. Shott’s past public behavior. If Mr. Shott is upset, he is welcome to talk to us.

  23. @30 – It certainly sounds like Mr. Shott has had a history of past bad behavior in public fora when he doesn’t like what someone says, and has subjected those people to intimidation and bullying, as he did in this case.

    We’ve asked for access to the group that Andy cites, and we’ll be reporting back if and when we do get it.

  24. I’m confused about where we’re “allowing comments to stand that are direct personal attacks.” I see plenty of descriptions of a person’s behavior, and when one’s behavior is overbearing, out-of-proportion bullying, then the negative reputation one gets as a result is called “natural consequences.”

    Frankly, I think “may be an unstable individual” is the most charitable thing that’s been said; at least Andy is ascribing Shott’s behavior to a treatable health issue.