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Herbalife goes to court to unmask Twitter user who criticized company

Herbalife
Carl Icahn said Friday that he bought an additional 2.3 million shares of Herbalife. He already was the company’s biggest shareholder.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Herbalife Ltd. wants a Chicago judge to unmask an anonymous person who posted negative comments about its products on Twitter.

The Los Angeles nutritional products company on Monday filed a petition in Cook County Circuit Court that would require Twitter Inc. to identify the person behind the account @AfueraHerbaLIES.

That Twitter user alleged in two posts that Herbalife’s products were “toxic” and likely to be recalled. One post ended with a statement in Spanish that means, “Out with Herbalife!”

On May 11, the user posted: “$HLF products will be recalled because they are toxic.”

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On July 5, the user was back at it : “People being poisoned around world by $HLF toxic unregulated products. Afuera con Herbalife!”

Both comments contain false and damaging statements, Herbalife said in the petition. The company said it wants the user’s identity so it can pursue legal action, including a court order prohibiting the person from posting similar comments in the future.

Twitter’s privacy policy prohibits the company from identifying a user without a court order.

An Herbalife spokesman called the legal action “pretty straightforward.”

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“We are not going to sit back and let someone make false and defamatory statements about our company,” said Alan Hoffman, vice president of global corporate affairs for Herbalife.

Herbalife has spent more than two years defending itself against allegations by a New York hedge fund manager that it operates a pyramid scheme that victimizes its independent sales members.

Herbalife sells meal-replacement shake mix, protein bars, vitamins, personal care items and other products in more than 80 countries around the world. A publicly traded company, Herbalife reported net sales of $5 billion last year.

The company’s products are not available in retail stores, but are sold through independent distributors who provide weight-loss and nutritional counseling to customers. Distributors make profits from sales and get commissions from the sales of others they recruit into the business.

In December 2012, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman said Herbalife’s business model was illegal and ultimately would be shut down by regulators. The vast majority of sales members make little or no money, while a fortunate few -- those at the top of the pyramid -- get wealthy, Ackman said.

Herbalife strongly denied the allegations, saying most of its members sign up in order to receive discounts on products they personally consume. The company has been in business for 35 years.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation of the company’s practices. That review is ongoing.

Twitter: @spfeifer22

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