Stopping Online, Internet, and Social Media Defamation
Overview of the problems, and a recommendation for a company that solves them.
June 18, 2016
For most people, online, internet, and Social Media defamation comes in three categories:
1. The defamation is all online. Maybe it’s a kook you don’t know, maybe it’s high school revenge from 10 years ago, but all of it is online. This is the easiest type of defamation to deal with. If you post positive web pages about yourself online, and delete or push down the negative pages, the kook becomes pretty powerless, and usually will move on to a new victim.
2. The defamation started online, but has now spread to your neighbors, coworkers, classmates or customers. That’s worse, but it can usually be stopped at the online level; once the perpetrator’s posts are no longer reaching their audience, or are buried deep in the search engine rankings, people who know you personally will gradually lose interest and forget about it. If the kook was accusing you of something serious like embezzlement or child molesting, even that is likely to fade away.
3. The defamation started locally among people you know, and only then spread to internet defamation. This is a tougher situation – it can’t hurt and will usually help you to remove the online defamation, since that will stop the “echo effect,” but you still need to deal with the local problem. Sometimes an online forensic investigation to prove who is making the Internet posts will solve the problem – if you find that all the negative posts are coming from one or two people, then revealing that to the community can shift opinions fast – in fact you can come out clean, and the kooks who started the negative rumors can end up ruining their own reputation(s).
Solutions: not me, sorry. I’m technically internet-savvy, but improving people’s online image is not my specialty. Since I want to offer readers a solution, not a problem, I try to point you to people who do offer effective solutions.
The number of "reputation defender" companies has grown, and are now known as Online Reputation Management companies, or "ORM." However, most of them are still limited to trying to add positive pages about you to the Web, in the hope of pushing down the negative mentions. That can't hurt, but may not solve your problems; it's a bit useless to build a nice big positive Facebook page for you, when your problem is negative comments turning up in Google search.
Over the last few years I’ve recommended two online reputation management companies, but they were charging customers more and more, and selling the most expensive services like investigations and lawsuits, instead of focusing on the effective and economical solution first: get the defamation off the Internet! I’ve contacted numerous other reputation management services, but found them unresponsive or overpriced.
This summer I located an online reputation management company with one core service: get the defamation pushed down or completely deleted. I reviewed their services, and spoke to founder Matt Peters several times, and while they can ratchet up into tracking down anonymous critics or litigation, they definitely start with the basics – in fact they even have a do-it-yourself software tool for $99, though I’d recommend letting them do the work. The company: SearchManipulator.com
SearchManipulator offers 90-day guaranteed satisfaction or your money back, and they’re candid about what they can and can’t do for you. What they can do: push down or outright delete defamatory posts from a lot of websites you probably considered untouchable, often in a matter of weeks, without getting into forensic tracking of the libelers or expensive litigation. Unlike almost all the other online reputation management companies, they also answer the phone or return your call promptly (many other companies ask you to fill out long forms with personal information before they'll contact you).
What the company says right up front is more difficult: deleting negative posts from .gov or mainstream media websites. I consider this reasonable, since government agencies or major newspapers are not very obliging about deleting anything. On the other hand, neither of them are obliging kooks either government and major newspapers don’t usually publish negative information about individuals until they have investigated the truth of it.
(Note: the name "search manipulator" is attention-grabbing, but this company abides by internet "rules," and doesn't do anything that will annoy Google or other websites. They're simply good programmers who know what they're doing.)
I'm the author of Fighting Slander, Law of the Blog, and Dancing with Lawyers (all of which are on the shelves of law libraries at eminent law schools), and the encyclopedia article “Search Engine Optimization and User Behavior.” I’m also an expert witness to law firms for defamation of character lawsuits, particularly those involving online/internet/Social media defamation or emotional distress due to defamation. This is a brief writing and legal biography, and a brief technical biography can be read at here.
Definitions: Most online defamation used to come from trolls and energy creatures. The origin of "trolls" is uncertain whether it is about physical trolls who hide under bridges and attack passerbys, or comes from "trolling" for fish. In either case trolls are people who put out inflammatory posts to infuriate people. "Energy creature" has a clear origin, from the Star Trek TV series; these are trolls-to-the-max, and the more you fight back, the more they love it as they "absorb" your energy. Your anger is their strength.
However that was the early 1990s, when most users were technically savvy and knew how to track down trolls; when free (and anonymous) email accounts didn't exist; and there were no wireless connections, so a troll couldn't conveniently go to a coffee shop and libel you anonymously.
So today we also have have online sockpuppets, relatively non-technical people who still know enough to set up ten free email accounts, and log in from different fake user accounts to post libel about you. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sockpuppet_%28Internet%29)
Today "online" is a broad term the defamation could begin online at in private or school or church discussion groups, professional discussion groups, a homeowners association or the workplace, then propagate to the WWW through websites, Facebook or Twitter, blogs, Ebay ratings or Amazon reviews, or even the old Internet standby of Usenet. It all comes to the same thing; when the defamation is propagated electronically, it can spread fast, and go beyond embarrassment to do you real harm.