Internet defamation of character is becoming rampant. Contacting an internet lawyer who specializes in internet defamation is only one part of the solution. In this Traverse Legal Radio spotlight, Sue Scheff discusses her first hand experience as the target of an on-line reputation smear campaign including her $11.3M Verdict against the perpetrators .....
Today’s program is brought to you by the attorneys at Traverse Legal, PLC, a global law firm specializing in Internet law, trademark infringement, copyright infringement, cybersquatting, online defamation, and complex litigation. Contact Traverse Legal today and learn how these innovative attorneys are changing the way law is practiced. Welcome to Traverse Legal Radio. Now here’s your host, Damien Allen.
Damien Allen: Good morning and welcome to Traverse Legal Radio. My name is Damien Allen, and today in the studio, via the telephone, we have Sue Scheff. Sue Scheff is the co-author of Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet and also the author of Wits End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out of Control Teen. She’s founder of Parents Universal Resources Experts, Inc., also known as PURE. They are a child and parenting advocacy organization. She was the Plaintiff in an Internet defamation lawsuit that resulted in an $11.3M verdict, and that’s what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about Internet defamation. Good Morning, Sue, and welcome to the program.
Sue Scheff: Good morning, and thank you for having me.
Damien Allen: Well, you’re the co-author of the book, Google Bomb. What is a Google Bomb, and how does it relate to Internet defamation?
Sue Scheff: The funny story about that is I didn’t even know what a Google Bomb was until I went to write this book (purchase Google Bomb here). I had my story of how I won the $11.3M verdict, and I went out there searching for a prominent attorney to co-author with. I came across John Dozier, who is the co-author, and he came up with the term Google Bomb. I’m like, what is a Google Bomb, like you’re just saying. He goes, you were Google Bombed. What it is is Internet slang for a certain type of attempt to raise the ranking of a given page in the results from a Google Search. In other words, my defendant was out there intentionally and maliciously posting negative comments about myself to raise the indexing in Google so that when you went to Google my name, all you saw was this defamatory and libelous statement.
Damien Allen: So this person actually spent the time and the resources to sit down and basically talk crap about you on the Internet?
Sue Scheff: Right. It happens to a lot of people. I’m one of the first ones I think to bring the legal system into litigation, and I think the reason for that is it’s very expensive to litigate these cases. It’s also hard. I’m sure you know, and you’re listeners know, that defamation can be a really difficult area of law to prove and quantify. When you have this one disgruntled client and/or disgruntled customer, whatever you have, and they want to go on the attack of vengeance with those keystrokes, the Internet has become the new legal lethal weapon to do that. This is why in two of my stories I help educate people on how important it is today to keep up your online presence. If you don’t, someone else will.
Damien Allen: It’s become another form of your identify, just like you have to keep your social security number and your pertinent information safe to keep from identify theft, you also have to make sure that your business presence and that your personal presence and your professional presence is also covered. Why were you targeted in this Google Bomb?
Sue Scheff: And your character theft. Once you lose your character and your reputation, what do you really have left. In those 20 minutes that it could take to destroy me or anybody out there to destroy you, it’s going to take you months and months to repair. Why was she attacking me, was that the question?
Damien Allen: Yes.
Sue Scheff: She didn’t like the services I provided her, period, the end. I mean, she wanted more information than I was able to legally give her, so at that point, she felt that I was withholding information and went on this campaign to destroy me. It goes deeper into it in the book. It’s not as simple as that, but in a lot of ways, it is as simple as that. It’s simply having someone that doesn’t like you for any such reason, when I speak a lot, you can have your best friend today that you disclose all your deepest, darkest secrets to, then next thing you know, she’s not your friend anymore, he’s not your friend anymore, and they can go online and expose everything. Not only expose what you shared with them, but twist it and manipulate it. It’s the same thing you’re married to your soul mate tomorrow, two or three years from now could be your adversary. You really need to be extremely cautious with everything you do now online because at this point our life has become the information highway on the Internet. If you’re not online, you’re just not, period. Everything at this point, to me, from what I’ve seen, is Internet driven. If you think about, if you’re going to go out on a date, if you’re having a repairman in, nine out of ten people Google them. I don’t know what the recent statistics were, 77% of people Google each other. I think it’s higher than that now. Look at college recruiters; look at employers. The numbers are going higher and higher and higher. When they Google you, do you want them to exclude you because people do not take the time to determine is the Internet fact or the Internet fiction. They’ll just go on to the next service.
Damien Allen: So it’s not like ten years ago when Googling was the subject of a Seinfeld episode when somebody met somebody goes, Yeah, I Googled, to see if they existed or if they were a real person. Now it’s an everyday occurrence. The technology that’s there, you can find just about anybody who’s anybody or wants to be somebody on the Internet.
Sue Scheff: Right. I think that the funny part that I hear a lot is I hear people say, Well, I don’t Twitter, and I don’t Facebook, and I don’t Google, so I don’t need to worry about it. Well, you are the person that needs to worry about it because at some time in your life, someone is going to be Googling you. You have to, really, I say ensure you’re virtual online presence, I mean your virtual presence, period. Unlike years ago when someone used to send a nasty comment about you, they used to just be limited to your geographical area. Within a few weeks, it was gone. Now it goes viral. The Internet is like a tattooing machine. It’s out there forever and ever. I’m sure the slime about me are still out there somewhere, whether it’s in cache files. Even when stuff is removed, there is usually always some type of sophisticated hacker that can find it.
Damien Allen: It’s come to the point where they say, you know in a small town, everybody knows everybody and they know everything about everybody, and with the Internet, the entire world is a small town. Why is Internet defamation so much more damaging than defamation in traditional print or broadcast media, and we’ve touched on that, but do you have any more thoughts on that.
Sue Scheff: The main concern is that it stays there forever. At least with the print media, it’s like it goes into recycling, talk radio or even a television show, once it’s aired, it’s over, it’s done. With the Internet, it stays. It’s like a tattoo. Like I said, if you’ve ever tried to have a tattoo removed, which I haven’t, I do know it’s extremely, my daughter has tried to have one removed, it’s a long, painful, and it’s never really gone. There’s always some scars left there. So like I said, even with my own defamation, I’m sure there’s some scars left out there online. I’m sure it just doesn’t go away.
Damien Allen: Are there some kind of services that a person can use to protect their reputation from Internet defamation?
Sue Scheff: In our book, John Dozier, my co-author, gives you some great tips that you can do. I mean, there’s some free stuff that you can do for yourself, creating blogs, setting up your Google alerts, etc. What I turned to is an online management service, which is ReputationDefender.com, and they are now, they were at the time back in 2006, the only ones out there. They’re like the pioneer of reputation services. What they do is they took my name, they took my organization, and they created different websites and they signed me up for all kinds of services, stuff that I wouldn’t have known to do because I’m not computer savvy. I spend my days working with parents of troubled teens. I don’t have time to stay on the computer and manage my reputation. For the working professionals, for career oriented people, people who really want to maintain a presence online, and a positive presence, because basically I gave ReputationDefender all the information, whether I want to talk about teen depression, teen gangs, teen pregnancy, and from that they created different websites and created my presence online, and within three to four months, even though I’d been vindicated legally in a court of law, all that slime was still out there online. I needed this service. I always encourage a lot of people today, and small businesses especially, any money that you would put into marketing or a PR firm, at this point you now need to consider online reputation management services.
Damien Allen: What other advice would you give to victims of Internet defamation?
Sue Scheff: The Number One piece of advice I give to everyone that calls me or emails me, etc., is when you first see that slime online, you panic and you feel powerless, you feel hopeless, you think what did I do, how do I get rid of it, oh, my God, who’s looking at this. The first thing you want to do is push back, now wait a minute, that’s not me. I tell people do not feed it, do not fuel it, do not engage in it. You have to try to, and as hard as you can, when I say turn away from it, I don’t mean ignore it, because we don’t want to ignore it thinking that it’s going to go away, because that’s what I did and it only got worse. Even though I had friends that tried to get this woman to stop, it only engaged it, it only made her become more aggressive. What I always tell people is, if you know this person that’s putting this defamation online or slander, if you have a relationship that you can pick up the phone and call this person, try to do that. Don’t email the person, because those emails, I have to tell you, even myself, when you type an email, before you hit send, especially if you’re angry or its an emotional email, sit on it for 24 hours. Put it in your drafts. The other thing is before you hit send, think about it. Now this email, wonder if it ends up as an Exhibit A in a courtroom. Is it okay? Is there anything on here that’s libelous or damaging? Be careful. Don’t put things in email. Call this person up if you can. If you can’t and it’s really damaging and it’s coming up in your Google alerts, it’s coming up when people are searching you, a lot of people are not aware that they can go down to the Terms of Service or Code of Conduct, where ever this disparaging comment is, and chances are, the website does not allow libelous, harassing or abusive statements, and you can write to the moderator or the owner of the forum. You don’t write emotionally, you write professionally, in accordance with your Terms of Service #3, this statement violates such and such due to abusive language. I myself have done this on more than one occasion and have been successful in getting negative posts down. They’re usually violating some type of Code of Service or Code of Conduct or Terms of Service. Do you follow what I’m saying?
Damien Allen: Yes, and with a lot of the social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, anything you type on there, even if you get rid of your account or try to delete it, it’s kept forever, so if you say something that’s emotionally charged or slanderous or libelous or you’re trying to defame somebody, it’s there forever, so once you’ve made that mistake of saying I’m angry and I’m going to say something right now, if you have not watched your words, you could very well have whatever you put down sitting as Exhibit A in a court of law.
Sue Scheff: Absolutely, that’s why you think twice before you ever do anything like that. I do Twitter and I do Facebook, but I do responsibly, and that’s the way we need to learn to use the Internet, responsibly. The Internet was created as an educational tool. It’s being used a lethal weapon, and I just think people need to start using it responsibly, especially when it comes to our teenagers and our kids. We need to start educating them. We need to be ten steps ahead of them. This is why I love it when parents tell me, oh, they’re putting all these kinds of guards on their computer and this software that’s going to protect so their kids can’t go into this chat room or can’t go into this website, all these filters, etc., that’s great for that one computer, but who’s to say your child isn’t going to go down to the library or isn’t going to go to a neighbor’s laptop or down to an Internet café. There’s so many places your children can get access to the Internet, this is why it’s important to educate your child about what they post today can harm them tomorrow, especially when it comes to getting into a college or having a job. What they put on their Facebook or MySpace page they need to think about it. If it’s not something that they feel comfortable showing their grandparents, then it probably shouldn’t be there. I even go a generation before the parents, because some parents, I actually have some parents who say, well, he’s only smoking pot, are okay with some things. Let’s take it a step back. If you have something on your Facebook page or your MySpace account that you wouldn’t show your grandparents, it probably shouldn’t be on your page.
Damien Allen: I agree, and I think those are word to live by. This is an issue that’s becoming quite a hot bed. There’s been, as you said, you are not the only victim of a Google Bomb, and if you do not have a web presence, if you are not a person who’s technologically savvy, if you’re someone from the previous generation who occasionally only emails family, doesn’t really get on the Internet, or somebody who just says why do I need it, you’re name could be anywhere. People could be talking about you, and you don’t even know it. It’s a good thing to look into, and I can’t thank you enough, Sue, for sharing your story with us today and giving us all this great advice.
Sue Scheff: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Damien Allen: It’s definitely been a pleasure. If you’d like more information on this subject, you can go to www.googlebombbook.com, and it will tell you how to get the book and it will give you more information on how to protect yourself from Internet defamation. You’ve been listening to Traverse Legal Radio. My name’s Damien Allen. Everybody have a great afternoon.