Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Cha

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Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Cha

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:20 pm

Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed The Way We Use the Internet
by John W. Dozier Jr. and Sue Scheff
© 2009 John W. Dozier Jr. and Sue Scheff

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


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Table of Contents:

• Acknowledgments
• Foreword
• All Rise
• We're Not in Kansas Anymore
o Monsters of the Web
o When the Road Forks, Take It
• No Good Deed Shall Go Unpunished
o The Three Amigos: SEO
o A Sweater with a Target on the Back
o Obfuscating, Aggregating, and Deleting as a Pastime
• The Scarlet Letter
o Flu Shots Don't Work After You Have the Flu
o When the Water is Receding, It's Too Late
o The Land of a Million Dreams
o All the News That's Fit to Print
• Dig a Moat or a Grave
o Information Yearns to Be Free
o If You Are Going to San Francisco
• Monkeys Don't Fly
o The Best Defense Is Offense?
o The Wild West Show
o Anatomy of a Google Bomb and the Mobosphere Attack
o My Weapon of Choice Is E-mail
o You're Pitching on Thursday
• All Rise (Reprised)
o The Limestone Theory
o The Awakening of the Sleeping Tiger
• Bizarro Land
o Circling Sharks
o Pajamas and a Toothbrush
o Are Citizen Journalists Either?
o The Streisand Effect and the Virtual Hydra
• How the Web is Won
o First and Lasting Impressions
o Section 230's Impact
• No Man is an Island
o It's the End of the World as We Know It
o Top Ten Steps You Can Take Today to Protect Yourself Online
o Honey, It's the FBI
• Mapquesting the Future
o Revolutionary Change
o The E-Bill of Rights
• Final Thoughts
o Do You Know What Google is Saying About You?
o Why This Book Needed to Be Written
• Index

Google Bomb Revisited

Sue is being hit from all sides, and the instigator and lead attacker appear to have some followers, but not so many that they can step back and have others act as a proxy and do the dirty work for them. The Google Bomber you really have to be on the lookout for is a leader, an authority figure, of a web constituency. As I write this in February 2009, I am watching a Google Bomb attack developing with the leadership of the Public Citizen Litigation Group and Paul Alan Levy. Public Citizen claims to have over 100,000 members, so that is quite an influential constituency to energize. You would think lawyers, particularly ones actually appearing in cases, would never consider instigating an online mob attack against a party to the case. But that is exactly what Levy is doing. And he appears to his constituents, mostly free-speech expansionsists and web-democratization fanatics, as a real leader and an authority figure.

After all, they reason: he seems to always give us the advice we want to hear! I am reminded of the guidance I received in law school from a prominent and controversial federal district judge about positioning arguments before judges. "Pound the facts when the facts are in your favor, pound the law when the law is in your favor, and when neither is in your favor, pound the table." Levy is pounding the table. Of necessity. I view him and his legal team at Public Citizen as the primary protectors for the gross misconduct of scofflaws online. In the mobosphere he is the Godfather. Here's a good example:

It's Friday, February 20, 2009 at 5:38 PM. A preferred time to launch an attack on a business. The technology staff has left for the weekend. Word is out that Jones Day, the 2,000-lawyer law firm, has just settled a lawsuit by forcing a small Internet company to stop "anchor text" linking to its website. And Paul Alan Levy, having filed a brief in the case as a "friend of the court" supporting the small company, but still smarting from the judge's refusal to even consider his arguments, is obviously not happy. His blog post doesn't just include ranting about unethical lawyers and judges. It's not apparent whether the typical mass e-mail went out with his rant to Public Citizen's 100,000 members, but the next day, all hell breaks loose. First, we'll look at what happened, and then analyze what Levy did to incite a Google Bomb and mobosphere attack.

On Slashdot.com the day after Levy's post:

"I wonder if the owners of jonesdaysucks.com feel the same way."

"I get the feeling that they are soon to learn about what is called the Streisand Effect."

"At least you didn't link to gay porn, or child porn, or beastiality, or golden showers, or shit-eaters .... " (all anchored text links pointing to the Jones Day website).

"We are going about this the wrong way ... Jones Day, Jones Day, Jones Day (Don't click on the links, trust me) ... maybe we can get Jones Day the law firm off the front page of Google." (all anchored text links apparently pointing to dangerous sites for your computer).

"I have a feeling Jones Day, are about to have a really bad day."

"Hello? Streisand Effect?"

"The whole Google-Bomb idea was nice .... "

" ... the judge in the case refused to even look at the brief .... "

"Yes, Judge Darrah, l just said you're either incompetent or crooked."

"Or you can rate him here. This should get interesting .... "


Within forty-eight hours, the website that offers a rating system on judges (The Robing Room) is inundated with over 100 ratings, many from "lawyers." Prior to February 22, the judge had received a total of seven reviews in almost three years. Overnight he has become a very popular subject:

"the judge in this case refused to even look at the brief."

"poor temperment, probably crooked."

"What a disgrace to the legal system."

"What a total f*cktard asshole c*ck-knocker. He once tried to fondle my kid brother and offered me oral sex in the bathroom of his courthouse."

"Refusing to look at a brief because the opposing side says it is biased is unconsionable (sic)."

"Biased, lazy, arrogant."

"A disgrace to the system."

"In addition to corrupt, throw in incompetent."

"Corrupt Judge."

"he is an incompetent and corrupt baffoon (sic)."

"biased, degenerative."

"A judge should look at every brief submitted to him."

"Terrible, terrible judge."

"You're a f*cking disgrace."

"Crooked, corrupt, incompetent."

"This rating system is broken ... a 1 is too generous."

"Complete Yankee dickhead."

"Try actually viewing briefs put before you, Judge."


So, we have a little bit of everything here. Google Bombing, the Streisand Effect, and a sucks site. The "don't click on the links" reference is to try to get these linked pages showing up as Jones Day search results so when people click on them their computer could be hijacked or a virus downloaded. Other sites discuss e-mailing the law firm and just about every variation of a Google Bomb and mobosphere attack we discuss.

Now, what exactly did Levy do to instigate this kind of madness? He attacked the judge in the case. "The very fact that the trial judge allowed this case to drag on, rather than dismissing it outright based on the sound reasons that Public Citizen and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put forward in our amicus brief ... "is an outrage according to Levy, continuing his theme first voiced when he claimed the judge refused to listen to him. What comes next is worse, though. He repeated "Jones Day" as an anchored text link twenty-nine times in his blog post. Some of these were links to derogatory articles or to a photograph on the Public Citizen website of the asses of two horses. If there is any doubt about his intentions, read his own words:

"One might, however, suggest that the Internet community to [sic] fight back against Jones Day, by repeatedly deep-linking from its name, and to its website, in precisely the ways to which it objects, but which it cannot prevent through litigation. Jones Day's bullies should learn that they cannot have their way. In addition to linking to Jones Day's own website, the community can use hyperlinks to show Jones Day what they think of its abuse of free speech online. Does Jones Day really believe in its theories of the case? Let's find out. In the end, Jones Day will have to accept the limits of its bullying power."


That is a call to his Internet constituency to fight back with a Google Bomb. And his attacks on the judge had the intended effect of inciting a virtual riot and mob attack on the judge's reputation. Evolving quickly from Levy's request to attack were a panoply of mobosphere attacks from all directions.

-- Google Bomb, by John W. Dozier Jr. and Sue Scheff
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:23 pm

PRAISE FOR GOOGLE BOMB

"Google Bomb is a great book! The Constitution protects free speech, but slander is not free speech. Only cowards use slander as a means of expression; we should be able to know who the cowards of this world are and hold them accountable, and Google Bomb helps readers do that."

-- Senator Walter G. "Skip" Campbell Jr.

"I haven't been this affected by a book in a long time. I went from a shaking rage to knots in my stomach to tears and finally to cheers. What happened to Sue could happen to any of us, and Google Bomb's practical guidance makes this a highly profound and useful book that the world needs to read."

- Michele Borba, Ed.D., parenting expert, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, and Today Show contributor

"The Internet is a wonderful informational tool with the focus being on informational -- not character assassination, which is cyber bullying. As a result of Sue Scheff's being cyber bullied, Google Bomb has been written to educate people about the Internet, cyber bullying, and the horrifying effects that cyber bullying can have on a person. Some children are so tormented that they use suicide as an alternative to ease their pain. There are some adults whose lives have been turned upside down and businesses that have faced financial ruin. Google Bomb offers solutions to virtual threats and character assassinations and is a wake-up call as to why we need tough legislation to protect the innocent -- whether they be children, adults, or businesses. Bravo to Sue Scheff and John W. Dozier Jr. for writing this much-needed book."

-- Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer, Love Our Children USA

"The Internet can be a wonderful resource for adults and students alike. But as Sue Scheff's story illustrates, it can also be the perfect platform for a bully. Parents need to teach their kids to be safe online, just as they teach them to be safe in the "real" world, and Google Bomb offers a game plan that even a technophobe can execute. A must read for anyone who's ever posted their name on the Internet, but especially for those whose kids are doing so every day."

-- Danielle Wood, editor-in-chief, education. com

"Google Bomb is an instructive and timely book that will only become increasingly relevant as our laws catch up to the realities of today's evolving technology. Sue's triumph over her attacker underscores the principle that there is no constitutionally protected right to defame others online."

-- Fatima R. Fahmy, attorney-at-law

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FROM JOHN DOZIER JR.

When I received a call about doing a book on online defamation in the spring of 2008, I recalled a lunch seven years earlier. A good friend had encouraged me to write "the book" on the law of the web. I was fresh off a ride on the Internet bubble of the late 1990s, having founded a venture-backed e-commerce company and anxious to get back to being a trial lawyer. Not enough time, I thought, but in retrospect that was just an excuse to put off for tomorrow what did not at the time seem necessary.

By the spring of 2008, things had changed. That call made me realize that writing about what I knew was not only necessary, but essential. And so it is. I want to thank Sue Scheff for having the courage to write her story. She won't tell you how trying and painful it was recalling the nastiness. She had the courage and conviction to move this project forward even knowing that the worst for her may be yet to come because of it.

Michele Matrisciani has been the driving force in so enthusiastically ushering this project through HCI, our publisher. Her vision, foresight, and understanding have been exceptional, and Michele was willing to let me do it my way. The entire family at HCI has been impressively supportive and professional, and for that I express my deep and sincere appreciation.

This book would not have been written had not a well-regarded author set aside her time to support, cajole, and manage both Sue and me. She pulled the strings, focused the thoughts, spotted the holes, and led this effort in a way that made my writing far easier. Olivia, words cannot express the contribution you have made. You are a consummate professional in every sense of the word and. someone I will hold in high esteem even when the Google Bombs are dropping all over me!

I wrote my portion of this book personally and I am responsible for any inaccuracies or errors. My informal editing team of Lisa Casey, Don Morris, Cameron Gilbert, and Nick Moraites provided excellent suggestions and feedback. Victoria Lawson and Lisa were always ready, willing, and able to deal with the marketing and public relations aspects of writing this book as I ran the Dozier Internet Law firm and then went home and wrote each night for months. Each of you contributed mightily to my ability to undertake this project.

On a personal note, I owe a debt of gratitude to Katrina Dozier for finding the time to deal with many of the everyday challenges of raising two teenagers. To my two sons, John III and Justin, thank you for understanding that Dad really, really needed to do something important every night for what must have seemed like an eternity. I love you. To my brothers and sister, I appreciate your advice, support, and guidance through the years.

As I move on, I realize that I may never pass this way again. I leave with a feeling of satisfaction that I believe I have offered a message of hope and not of despair. This has been an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. I am forever indebted to each and every member of the team.

My words are dedicated to the memory of my father, Reverend John W. Dozier, and my mother, Viola E. Dozier. Dad was a Washington and Lee University law school graduate who decided the ministry was his calling. He was an avid and skilled writer. These words come from my mouth, but the underlying principles of honesty, decency, and caring come from both of your hearts. Dad, for all of those rejection letters you received over the years, you finally got published! And I believe you and Mom have spoken well.

Finally, thank you America for the First Amendment and free speech, without which this book would never have been written. We must be ever vigilant in protecting legitimate free speech on all flanks, but we must never forget that the greatest threat to our fundamental rights and values will come from the wolves in sheep's clothing.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FROM SUE SCHEFF

First and foremost, I have to thank my editor, Michele Matrisciani, for not only being one of the best editors in the world, but pushing me to limits I never thought I could reach. Her friendship and dedication brought this book from the seed of an idea to what you now hold in your hands. Having to open old wounds to tell my story made this a very difficult book to write, and without Michele, it simply would not have been done.

A special thanks to the team at Health Communications, Inc. (HCI), particularly Tom Sand, an early champion of the project, Carol Rosenberg, who spent endless hours working to get this book out on time, Kim Weiss, marketing master and tireless cheerleader, and Larissa Henoch and the art department who have proven yet again to be truly inspired.

Olivia, you have contributed your heart and soul to this book and have gone beyond your duties. You are a passionate, talented professional and a loyal friend. I am so grateful that our paths have crossed and look forward to collaborating with you in the future.

I must also acknowledge my friends and colleagues that stood by me even when it risked their own online reputations. Cyberstalkers are a malicious breed who are quick to go after innocent bystanders simply because of their association with the primary target of the stalkers' attacks. Those who were loyal to me put themselves in the line of sniper fire; in order to protect their privacy, I will not address these brave souls by name. But you know who you are and my gratitude to each of you is deep and everlasting.

There is another dear friend, Jeff Berryman, who survived an onslaught of cyberattacks but sadly lost his life last year. Jeff, the world isn't the same without you. You are truly missed.

I am deeply grateful to have been blessed with a wonderful family, and send them all my love for their unstinting support.

An extra special thanks to David Pollack, Michael Fertik, and the entire team at ReputationDefender, and my coauthor John Dozier Jr. These intelligent professionals have all fought to bring civilization to cyberspace and I am the lucky recipient of their wisdom, compassion, and guidance.

And finally:

To all of the people who have silently suffered and felt powerless while the very core of their lives has been violated by vicious keystrokes, and to the many individuals that have reached out to me for help or expressed appreciation for the hope my story has given them: I dedicate this book to you.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:23 pm

Foreword

Google™ is not God. Google is not the First Amendment, and it is not the truth. It is a machine. It may be the best machine invented in the past fifteen years, with myriad benefits for human knowledge and collaboration, but it is still just a machine that operates on rules devised by people. For that reason, it is both inherently fallible and subject to deliberate abuse.

It may be amazing that we actually have to say that Google isn't God or the equivalent of freedom of speech or informational gospel truth. But it is clear that many of us believe what shows up on the top of Google results is the most important, best, most accurate, most complete, most reliable, and most up-to-date information about the subject we are searching. From what is publicly understood about Google, it seems that the search engine scientists who work there try very hard to make the most democratically valued information rise to the top, on the basic operating theory that the wisdom of the crowd wilt over time, tend to favor the best and most comprehensive websites that discuss a particular topic, be it animat vegetable, or mineral, cabbages or kings.

But despite what may be Google's best efforts and intentions, the machine gets it wrong at least as often as it gets it right. The errors and omissions of the world's search engines visit punishing consequences on the victims of erroneous, obsolete, incomplete, or false information. Nonetheless, despite this mixed (and possibly worsening) track record, the rising primacy of Google as the world's most important data channel seems to hoodwink many of us into believing what we see when it comes up on the top of Google search results. The theory goes: if it shows up on Google, it must be true and it's somehow the best information about the subject being searched. It is clear that people make decisions based on what they find in the top positions on Google: multiple visual "heat maps" published on the Internet have shown that the vast majority of Google users look at the top few results and ignore everything below them.

This is important for all of us, as we have become as searchable as the subjects we crave information on. What shows up at the top of Google can make or break our professional lives, our chances at romance, and our ability to get into the school of our dreams. It is far easier to harm someone and destroy their reputation on the World Wide Web than it is to make that person look great or even plain vanilla neutral. Blogs and discussion forums often enjoy more prominence in search engines than newspapers and other edited professional journals. Under the rules of search engines as they exist today, odd blog and forum corners of the Web can be turned into powerful launch pads of interpersonal attack.

There are real-life consequences when someone aims to destroy someone else on the Internet. It's all too easy to destroy another person on the Web. In cyber-slamming cases, victims are often intimidated into silence because they feel powerless and helpless, and their first instinct is to shut themselves up so that things don't "get worse." Sue, a victim herself, is a rare individual because she decided to stand up for herself on the Web, defend herself in the courts and online, and go about protecting herself and others in an assertive way. You mayor may not agree with everything Sue and John have written, but we can all agree that the narrative they tell is an important one for the emerging discussion of Internet, speech, and the speech-shaping powers of Google.

Michael Fertik
CEO and Founder of ReputationDefender
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:24 pm

All Rise

The day is September 19th, 2006, a Tuesday. It's a little before 2:30 in the afternoon and the weather is sunny, breezy, and beautiful in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The surf is up just down the street and my stomach is riding a wild wave as the jury of six somberly files into the nearly empty courtroom.

I have no idea what to expect. My lawyer, David Pollack, leans a little closer and whispers, 'Well, this is it.... " I wish there was something I could hold onto besides his words since my legs aren't feeling very steady as the bailiff, a very kindly looking older man, intones, "All rise."

This is a landmark case for Internet defamation, as no precedent has ever been set. My organization has been all but destroyed. My personal reputation dragged through such muck it makes a pig sty seem clean by comparison. David has prepared me as best he can for what the verdict might be. I'm already out over $100,000 with a second mortgage on my house to get this far, but if the jury finds in my favor and grants us even a tenth of that I'll feel vindicated.

The Honorable Judge John Luzzo, in flowing black robe and wearing his duties with appropriate dignity, takes his elevated seat on the bench and asks the foreman, "Has the jury reached a verdict?"

"We have, Your Honor." Perhaps in her midthirties, dark haired and pretty, she hands their verdict to the bailiff, who hands it to the judge -- he nods in seeming approval -- then back it goes from the judge to the bailiff to the foreman. The air is trapped in my lungs. I can't breathe. And then she begins to read, line by line, the jury's unanimous decision:

"For Parents' Universal Resource Experts ... " (PURE, that's the organization I set up to help parents of troubled teens) " ... we award $1,170,000 in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages of $2,000,000." Punitive, meaning to punish the defendant for what they've done, am I hearing this right? "And for Sue Scheff we award ... "

Tears are streaming down my face while I watch David scribbling the numbers as the foreman keeps reading ... and reading. David circles the final rough math and mutters in disbelief: "What? Over ten million!"

"Court is adjourned!" The loud thud of wood on wood as Judge Luzzo slams down his gavel reverberates in my ears. Nothing seems real. Even the jurors asking the judge for permission to personally speak with me, then approaching with open arms, seem like a waking dream. My unflappable attorney, so steady in court, is giddy as a kid with a mile-high cone of cotton candy on his first carousel ride once we're outside, fist punching the air and whooping, "I don't believe it! I don't believe it! This could be the biggest Internet defamation jury award in history!"

Being awarded a staggering amount of money for standing your ground when you've been deeply wronged is a wonderful thing. Having one's faith restored in the goodness of humanity after witnessing the underbelly of it is even more priceless.

I've been a victim of Internet defamation. I understand too well the sense of powerlessness, isolation, and unadulterated fear that if you tell someone your name and they decide to Google search you (it happens), you've suddenly gone from acquaintance to some Fatal Attraction monster who makes Hitler seem like a saint -- a pariah to be avoided at all costs. It's a fate much worse than getting dissed by someone you thought was a friend only for another to clue you in on the latest mean gossip making the rounds. Internet defamation is another animal entirely -- a cruel and vicious animal that often lacks a face and hides behind the computer screen in cowardly anonymity. Or so the "anonymous" think.

It is my sincere hope that by exposing my own ordeal, as well as the mistakes I made when trying to confront unfounded attacks on my character and business practices, that you might benefit from them both.

My name is Sue Scheff. This is my story.

***

Unfortunately, there are too many Sue Scheffs out there. The victim of an online defamation attack can be a Fortune 500 company, a soccer coach, a Girl Scout leader, the singer in a boy band, your local dentist, a world famous plastic surgeon, a professional athlete, a college professor, that ex-lover, a government official, your minister, your spouse, or your children. I'm John W. Dozier Jr., founder of the Dozier Internet Law firm ... and I fix problems. One such problem? Not content to sucker punch the elderly lady on a street corner and snatch her purse, miscreants have taken their activities indoors. Understandable, I guess. Winters can get a bit nippy and with global warming and all, summers are way too hot. So they now ply their trade on the Internet, carefully searching out "marks" in air-conditioned comfort while reclining in an overstuffed lounger swigging microbrews. But they aren't the only problems. The defamation predators of the web look like that friendly paperboy, the church choir director, your child's best friend, or the guy or gal next door because, well, how should I say this ... they are.

Sue has a great story to tell, but I have others to draw from as well. This is a very different kind of book, one that I hope you'll find both fascinating and enlightening as Sue speaks from her personal experience and I offer my professional expertise. At the beginning of each chapter, you will meet Sue and read in her words the intricate and intimate details of her landmark $11.3 million court victory and the malicious deeds that led up to it. Following Sue's personal accounts, I will interject my sections (which are prompted by a change in typeface as has occurred here), and take you on a guided tour of the underworld of the web, show you the inside tricks of the trade, tell you how to know when you are a defamation target, walk you through the early warning signs, and train you on how to deal with the attack while maintaining your sanity and recovering your good name. From passive defense to high-powered offense, from rallying the troops to counterinsurgent maneuvers, you'll learn how to fight back and win. Of course, we'll cover what to do, and what not to do, when under attack. And you'll learn ready-made steps you can take immediately to turn back attacks on your name before they even start.

The cyberdefamation scourge sweeping the web today is destroying lives, careers, and businesses with no advance warning. The devastation is shocking and immediate. The risk is too high for you to ignore this new form of online personal terrorism. But you have to help yourself. There are no white knights and no one is going to come to your rescue. So take our stories, advice, and guidance as a wake-up call. You have the power to gain control of your good name and reputation before the nice boy who lives next door, who seems to always be sitting in his overstuffed recliner drinking a beer, decides to pay you and yours a little cybervisit. Strange things can happen on the web. Those under attack will at times feel out of touch with reality. Sue will tell you that she was no exception.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:24 pm

WE'RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

I like to believe that John Donne was right when he said, "No man is an island, entire of itself," but when you've been swallowed up by the sense of isolation and helplessness that a mass attack on your character and reputation can bring, it sure can feel like you've been shipped to a leper colony, population of one.

I want to tell you about my life before a smoke monster known as cyberstalking, Internet defamation, whatever you want to call it, reared its ugly head and set out on a viral mission to squash me like a gnat.

Let's begin with my earlier book, Wits End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-Of-Control Teen, which tells my personal story about having an at-risk teenager -- as so many parents do, there are so many out there -- putting her in a program for teens who have become a danger to themselves and/or others, learning she was being abused in this program, then getting her back home in worse shape than when she left.

As a result of the trauma from our own experience, I established an organization to assist other families in similar circumstances, known as Parents' Universal Resource Experts (PURE). My goal wasn't to make mother lodes of cash to cruise the Caribbean in high season, but to acquire information and distribute it to families that needed help while facing their own parental nightmares. I'd been there. I understood. I wanted to do whatever I could to help. My motto was and is "learn from my mistakes, gain from my knowledge."

Since I have been painted by some others on the Internet as being a shrewd "con artist" who's always been in it for the money and loves nothing better than to dupe vulnerable families for my personal gain, let me go on the record (and it is on legal record) as saying nothing could be further from the truth. If someone needed help, no matter their circumstances, I would never, will never, turn them away. I have spent countless hours offering what assistance I can to distraught families without charge.

If you want to know more about that part of my story you can read all about it in Wits End.

Although I wasn't exactly giving Warren Buffet a run for his portfolio, I have to say that for a while I truly had an embarrassment of riches. My work was incredibly rewarding; I had such a sense of purpose that I couldn't wait to get to my office bright and early, return a never ending list of calls, and reply to an avalanche of e-mails that would pile up faster than I could respond.

I especially enjoyed meeting the parents face to face. As great as the phone and computer are as a means of communication, there's nothing that can quite replace the human connection that's found in a look, a touch, a tear. There were a lot of those and they didn't just come from the parents who were desperate enough to seek me out. I can choke up right now remembering some of those conversations that took place in what seems like yesterday and yet was a lifetime ago. You don't forget those things; they become part of your emotional DNA.

The private meetings I had were more than offset by the amount of time I funneled into public relationships. My speaking engagements ranged from large conferences to small organizations: from the Kiwanis to local police stations; professional associations to PTOs; keynote speeches to luncheons. I would meet with adolescent therapists, juvenile probation officers, guidance counselors, the list goes on. My schedule was nonstop; it seemed as if I was constantly booked to talk about teen issues -- trust me, there are a lot of troubled teens out there, it's a huge swath of our population, especially when you factor in the other family members who are affected.

There's something amazing about finding your passion. It's such a gift, meant to be shared, not hoarded or squandered. The innate joy we find in answering a true calling can't help but spill over into other areas of our lives. My own was so rich and vibrant that ... I guess you could say that it made me shine inside and out, personally and professionally. And like a young mother fawning over a precious child, PURE was my baby. It was my beloved little gem that I'd raised on sacrifice and principle; that I built from the ground up, call by call, letter by letter, meeting by meeting.

Now the thing about being wrapped up in a cause, especially a worthy one, is that so much of your life is ruled by its needs. One of PURE's most intrinsic needs was a large Internet presence as a distribution system for offering up my guidance. That's how a significant number of families across America found us. An equally important need was the ability to maintain an unblemished reputation. We are, after all, talking about the welfare of children who are already at risk. And, if there was a third necessity of the highest order, it would be networking and creating an online community of trust by bringing together the right people, the right resources, and the right connections to solve the most pressing needs of our kids.

These three things -- distribution, reputation, and community -- were the brain, the spine, and the legs that enabled PURE and, by extension, myself to become regarded as one of the best go-to sources in the teen program industry. And like most industries, there's a certain octopus extension that flows in many directions and has a sweeping reach.

Due to the good reputation I had established within a very large network of contacts, I wasn't surprised to receive a phone call one day from an individual I'll refer to as M. Clark. It's a fictitious name. Although I don't believe in anonymous postings, my case has attracted an underbelly of Internet society that has wished me dead in graphic detail. For my own self-protection, and that of my children, I'll be using fictitious names where I deem them prudent, but nothing has been concealed with regard to the role these very real people have played in my life or the facts of my legal dealings with them.

Anyway, you'll be hearing a lot about M. Clark, and when she first contacted me, I didn't think to look her up online, just as it had never occurred to me to check myself out. Little did I know what a mistake that would turn out to be, and I was completely unsuspecting as Clark asked for some advice and assistance in having two sons removed from a teen program in Costa Rica that had received some bad press. I offered her my hand because she was distressed and I felt compassion for this woman whose ex-husband had placed their boys in the program.

While my child is the only child I have ever actually removed from a program's custody, a large part of my job is to educate parents who are often scared and trying to navigate blind through a strange and daunting industry labeled "teen help." I give them what guidance I can and, if appropriate, offer resources and information that may be of assistance. And, that's exactly what I did for M. Clark. I gave her some hopefully useful information, including the name of a consultant named Steve who might be able to assist her since he was familiar with the school and had recently been to Costa Rica. And that was it. I never billed her a dime; she never paid me a penny. Beyond the call she placed to me, for all I knew we'd never cross paths again.

If only that were the case.

Shortly after our conversation and prior to getting her sons back, Clark resurfaced on a now defunct private listserv called the IntrepidNet, sometimes referred to as Trekkers -- a support group primarily for parents of troubled teens, many of whom were either in teen help programs or had previous experience with them.

The woman who started the listserv, a truly sweet and caring soul, died unexpectedly. Since we were good friends and I had accumulated so much knowledge about the subject everyone was dealing with, the listserv regulars looked to me to step into a surrogate position for her. I informally accepted the responsibility -- after all, it wasn't a huge group, fluctuating in the range of 50 to 100 members who would come and go, post and lurk. This being a private list, invitations to new members needed to be approved. Judging from my brief interaction with Clark, she seemed well suited to the group and we had no reason to decline her request to join us.

So in she came.

At first all was as it should be. There was the usual give-and-take, being there for a listserv friend when they were feeling down or throwing cyberconfetti when things were looking up. We welcomed Clark with open arms, offering her our collective support, well wishes, and prayers to get her sons back safely.

And she did. But then, something we had never encountered before began to happen.

After Clark got her sons back she contacted me privately, requesting access to a young woman who had been allegedly raped at the boys' facility. I had a friend who knew the girl's mother, and the friend asked if she was open to discussing the incident with other concerned parents. The mother said no, they just wanted their privacy. I relayed the outcome to Clark and, as far as I was concerned, there was nothing else to discuss. In addition to my empathy for the affected family, distributing private information is not only a good way to destroy a stellar reputation, it is ethically wrong, and that's a place I refuse to go.

Clark, however, took it upon herself to then go directly to the IntrepidNetfTrekkers listserv to get what she was after. What started as polite pleading became an insistent demand to score some immediate contact with this traumatized girl, via her mother or another liaison.

The listserv was stunned by Clark's badgering for what the member either didn't have to provide or wouldn't relinquish to her. Their common purpose had always been to protect the young, not expose, exploit, or intimidate them. Members approached me privately, expressing their distress and wanting to have Clark removed to restore some peace to the group.

I tried to mediate the issue with a post to the members that read, in part: "1 am officially making this the end of the saga. If I can do this. We need to let this go on our listserv because it is going nowhere and taking up too much energy, and has also caused the loss of a valuable parent (in the sense that she is no longer on the list)."

Long story short: A valuable member had dropped out, Clark's hostility toward the listserv continued to ratchet up, and the webmaster expelled Clark from the list so she could no longer log in and cause havoc.

Why, you might wonder, was this woman so determined to make contact with a young victim that she would aggressively turn on a group of individuals who had supported her in her own time of need? None of us knew, which made the situation even more confusing and disturbing than if we'd at least had an inkling of Clark's motives. It would be over two years before witness testimony would shed some light on this mystery. Suffice it for now to say that, not surprisingly perhaps, money was involved.

More on that later.

After Clark was removed from the listserv and things got back on track there, I was going about business as usual, too. Meeting with parents, racing to keep up with speaking engagements and community service workshops, and covering all the other bases that seemed to be constantly loaded.

Of course a lot of those bases involved our website and the Internet. And, like most people, I used it for a lot more than an essential tool in my workbox. I still use Travelocity, MapQuest, and Weather. com on a regular basis. And it's hard to beat a search engine to check out local eateries, see what others are saying about movie reviews, or size up the countless other people, places, and things that might pique our curiosity or even have a potentially great impact on our lives.

But every now and then, the information we're counting on as being correct hits a glitch -- like didn't MapQuest know that the off-ramp it said I should turn on is under construction and now I'm going to be a lot later than the five minutes I was already running behind to meet a friend for dinner at the new restaurant that got such rave online reviews?

Such is the entanglement of our day-to-day lives with the source of advice we've come to depend on for ... just about everything, it seems. It's nothing less than amazing when you stop to think about what an intimate relationship we've forged with the "Information Highway" and just how broad an audience a single website can reach -- especially open forums where virtually anyone can read what is being posted. As it turned out, while I was busy doing business and living life as usual, Clark was busy as well.

I received a heads-up from a parent on the IntrepidNetffrekkers listserv, that Clark had found a new home at a public forum where she was venting her anger toward our members in general, and me in particular. I wasn't immediately too concerned. After all, I had actually tried to help Clark and it wasn't me who had gotten her kicked off our list -- she had done that to herself by alienating her earliest supporters.

Still, I was curious about what she could be posting for anyone who cared to look, so I went online and did a Coogle search of my name for the first time in my life.

I hit the enter key and as my eyes moved down the first page of results I saw my name mentioned in some context I could not understand. It made no sense. I clicked on the result and I was there. Reading ... and reading ... and thinking, surely I couldn't be reading this right. Surely these words couldn't be about me, screaming out from the computer screen in stark black-and-white.

I sat back. Blinked a few times. Read it all again. I was too shocked to initially react beyond a blank stare. I believe I wrapped my hand around the necklace I was wearing just to be sure this was real and not some freak imagining. Then as the reality of what I was viewing began to slowly sink in, my thoughts crystallized into both a prayer and an expletive:

Oh. My. God.

Monsters of the Web

Scofflaw Personas


Someone's first vanity search on Google is all too often followed by the panic of seeing something unpleasant, and Sue wasn't facing just a little snark or criticism or statement of opinion. I'm not a psychiatrist, and I don't play one on TV, but I'd like to offer you some guidance as to who it is you need to protect yourself from on the web.

Today I'm a trial lawyer intent upon studying the body language and characteristics of jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and judges. I'm comfortable with reading people and images. But what is behind mere words is harder to figure out. How do you understand someone's personality, their tendencies, their idiosyncratic dispositions, their emotional stability, and even their motivation by simply studying words and sentences? Dealing daily with the "monsters of the web;' you learn to identify the hot buttons, the angles, the finesse moves, and the brute force tactics that might just turn back an attack and make everything normal again. I'm a trial lawyer. Sometimes what I do is pretty. Sometimes the process is pretty ugly. That's just the way it is.

I've consulted with and worked for the city council member attacked in the midst of a race, the professional athlete fighting fake social network profiles, the high-profile reporter getting nailed by just about everyone, a lead singer battling a fake video, a "convicted child predator" who is anything but, the star high school quarterback attacked as he is being recruited, the actress constantly abused in forums by a jealous woman, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who made enemies on the way up and is now the target of their rage, the Wall Street bigwig whose name is used in porn websites, the venture capitalist who can't raise money because of a relative's online rant, a high profile TV commentator fending off a "sucks" website, a lobbyist being dragged through the mud by opposing political operatives, and enough lawyers, doctors, realtors, and Indian chiefs to last a lifetime.

I've represented the honest CEO who was the subject of an online assassination discussion, complete with photos of his house and close-ups of his front porch. I've represented the business whose former employee gratuitously decided to send spam e-mail "on behalf" of his former employer to over 10 million people and ask for them to call its offices. I've helped the monastery and monks turn back attacks by a former parishioner, a Fortune 500 company that had a convicted sexual predator prominently and convincingly publicize his "appointment" to its board of directors, and I've helped moms protect their sons, dads protect their daughters, children protect their parents, and friends protect their friends.

Through all of these situations, and many more too numerous to list, I tend to always try and discern the motivation of the parties involved. That, of course, involves trying to figure out what kind of monster of the web lurks behind the smoke. There are often clues to the identity and persona of the source of an attack. Some really thorough research up front is needed to develop enough facts to make a good, educated guess. And over time as we have unmasked these attackers, one not only develops a sense as to the motivation, but, more importantly, an instinct as to what is coming next, which can lead to clues as to how the problem might be solved.

I've come up with short descriptions for the monsters of the web. They often employ anonymity by attacking from behind a virtual smoke screen. Envision them behind a curtain, pulling levers and emitting smoke and fire to disguise their humanity. They revel in their own corrupted belief of omnipotence and strike terror in the hearts of others. My job is to pull back the curtain, clear the smoke, end the wizardry, and send them back to Kansas on a balloon filled with their own hot air.

1. Pickpocket

This is the guy who used to wait on street corners for elderly ladies to pass. He enjoys attacking defenseless people and stealing covertly using deception. This type of blogger will steal your copyright-protected content, have the search engines push your prospective clients to his site, and then run ads and otherwise direct the traffic to your competitors. He could be an affiliate marketer for a competitor getting a share of the revenue, or he could simply be running Google or Yahoo ads on his site. Pickpockets also take great pleasure in stealing your trademarks ... surreptitiously using your mark in hidden tags, meta tags, hidden redirect pages, or through a myriad of search engine optimization techniques you can easily learn more about by looking online, all in the hopes of redirecting your prospects to a competitor and taking money from you.

2.Wacko

We usually identify a wacko situation quickly. There are distinctive characteristics of his communications. The wacko is usually a "follower;' someone looking to gain attention and recognition, but escalates what may have started as fair criticism into more and more outrageous claims. Most sophisticated business people immediately view the poster as a "nut case," particularly when an excessive amount of time or energy disproportionate to the merits of the subject is expended. But it is not easy for the typical browser on the web to see the pattern, usually spread over multiple web properties.

3. Druggie

Or, maybe "liquid courage" would be more appropriate. This guy is exactly what comes to mind. During the day this blogger is a normal guy, but at night he returns to the sanctity of his home, gets drunk or high, and goes out on the web looking for "hookups" and blogging on his "hang-ups:' This guy is hard to detect as a fraudster, and sometimes won't recall the next day what he said online while under the influence. He posts aggressive, false, and arbitrary attacks on whatever issue of the day (or night) catches his fancy.

4. Alien

No, not from another world. But from overseas. In a far, far away place, without any treaty with the United States, in a country without an effective legal system and no notion of business or personal property ownership rights. Many of these types operate out of certain Russian provinces, but the blogs, postings, and communications appear to be from the customer down the street. This individual usually has an ulterior motive, often working with the criminal discussed below. He has no fear, until he takes a vacation to Turkey and U.S. federal agents grab him for extradition, which is exactly what happened on a case in the not-so-distant past.

5. Nerd

This is the guy who is scared to talk with a girl, but behind the keyboard, all alone, morphs into a Casanova. This empowerment of anonymity creates an omnipotent persona, and for the first time the nerd feels the effect of power and control, gets an adrenaline buzz when he exercises it, and he exercises it often, usually creating or perpetuating a volatile situation in which he feels he can outsmart the "opposition:' There is no principle involved. His blog postings are all about the adrenaline. It is hard to know if you are dealing with this type online ... his posts are intelligent and on their face credible. But, once you identify the nerd blogger, he cowers and goes away, usually forever.

6. Rookie

Enjoy debating a thirteen-year-old? They are out on the net acting like adults, posting statements, and playacting like a grown-up. The challenge, of course, is that most people reading the posts have no idea these are coming from a kid. The tip-off can be the utter immaturity of the posts, but most often the kids can sound credible criticizing, for instance, a CPA's method of calculating ROI for REIT holdings, because they can mimic earlier posts. There is no insidious motive here; just kids having fun as the hormones kick in. But the readers of the blog posting don't know that.

7. Sadist

This person attacks others, causes pain, and revels in the results in ways not worthy of mention. He loves to create, direct, control, and unleash a firestorm of criticism about you or your company just to create pain and damage. This type of person may often be the prime instigator of the online attacks, and tightens the noose by escalating the attack rapidly, almost as if in an obsessive state. You will find a sadist going to many sites and blogging, and he usually lets you know it was him because he uses his real moniker. He has characteristics of a stalker, and he is most likely to be the one that starts recommending direct physical violence against individuals. This person is not motivated by money, but by the pure enjoyment of pain being visited upon innocent parties.

8. Bankrupt

No, not morally bankrupt. Actually bankrupt ... no money, no assets, no prospects for work, and nothing to lose. This blogger posts without fear of the consequences or any regard for the truth because "you can't get blood out of a turnip:' "you can't get water from a rock," and all those other sayings handed down, I surmise, through generations of his family. This is usually not a smart guy, but his postings are damaging and inflammatory. Many will own and control blogs without any concern about the consequences of liabilities that might arise through the perpetuation and "enhancement" of posts, and sometimes will post to their own blog and act like it was from a third party.

9. Criminal

Career criminals, no less. Like the convicted felon running a sophisticated extortion scheme against a very prominent business. Or the owner of an open blog avoiding service of process with guard dogs protecting his compound. The thieves and crooks of the world are online today, and the criminals often have both an organization and a highly effective and surprisingly coordinated operational plan in place to target a business. Rumors of $500,000-a-year payoffs seem to promote this problem, which emanates from more of a "mobosphere" (the mob effect arising from a blogger attack) than the blogosphere.

10. Mis-Leader

This person is in no manner a leader. This blogger has a hidden agenda, but he just makes it sound like he is a totally objective commentator. He can create an appearance of authority and the casual visitor to his blog does not question the legitimacy. This type of persona is hard to figure out. One of the most pervasive practices is to control a blog and allow negative posts against all except his generous advertisers. Another common technique involves omission: not disclosing conflicts of interest or the existence of a business or personal relationship because the readers of the blog will totally discount the commentator's posts as unreliable and biased.

***

These are the types of characters who are serious risks to you and yours. You'll hear about some of their exploits from Sue and about others from me. For now, just know that there are dangerous strangers in your online neighborhood.

Don't get me wrong about this book. While you get a good sense of the characters out there, we are addressing unlawful and illegal conduct. We aren't focused on "semi-libel" or some snark problem. We aren't offering guidance on how to manage public relations when faced with a legitimate disgruntled customer's comments. And we aren't offering spin-control guidance.

We are addressing the damage that can be caused by bad conduct. We're focused on that .0001 percent of the online world that hides behind complexities (technical, societal, and legal) to attack the very fabric of our society by redefining truth via mob opinion. My thoughts focus on the tainting of truth through illegal or unlawful means. Attacks that threaten your reputation, your good name, and your right to enjoy life and protect your family and livelihood from miscreants and scofflaws. The good news is that a lot of our advice is proactive in nature; guidance you can start using today to build up defenses in case you become a victim.

Free speech today allows one to ignore civility and spout profane, uncouth, rude, and outrageous comments online within certain parameters. But the line between protected online speech and yelling "fire" in a virtual theatre is yet to be fleshed out. In a more concrete sense, free-speechers argue that labeling a competing business a "scam" is an opinion, not defamatory, and therefore protected free speech. On the other hand, I believe it very much depends upon the context of the speech. But this book is not a one-sided debate about the nuances of free speech, fair use, privacy laws, the First Amendment, and defamation. I'll leave debates like whether it is proper to publish photos of underage child abuse victims as they leave the courthouse to others for now. On the other hand, I'd be pleased to discuss the mob waiting outside a virtual courthouse ready to take the law into its own hands and conduct a very public offline and online lynching of a wrongfully-charged defendant.

We write all about the scofflaws of the web, those that act unlawfully, those who often support the tools they use, and what can be done to stop them. Scofflaws are the characters that not only violate laws, but do so with contempt. You've probably seen the type on those cable TV police shows ... fighting the police and claiming discrimination and brutality and innocence as crack pipes are falling from their britches. The legality of their misconduct would only be debatable in the minds of the most jaded free-speech expansionists and privacy fanatics.

I don't understand lawyers who appear as talking heads on TV and decry the lack of laws governing online misconduct. They should be using their voices to inform you about the laws we do have, and what they mean. It strikes me that it is actually worse to ignore laws already in place than to suggest that no such laws exist. The web is the Wild West. But anyone who would suggest that no laws existed when the forces of law and order faced off with open banditry at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, would be wrong. Are our laws problematic, ambiguous, ill-advised, shortsighted, incomplete, outdated, and symptomatic of a level of inexactness and misunderstanding? Yes. But Congress and state legislatures and judges have not outright ignored the legal issues confronting our society. They just haven't got them right yet. Lawyers, judges, and legislators need to do a better job embracing the laws as they exist today rather than being intimidated by the subject matter and denying their existence. And each of you can playa mighty role in forcing real reform and change through the legislative process. We'll be discussing needed changes and how you can make a difference in the pages to come.

We hope to empower everyone to understand the risks, develop a healthy appetite for caution, and address the oncoming fears head -on. So, what exactly is there to fear? The loss of your good name and reputation, to start. But that's just for starters. Sue describes the online world as an "octopus that flows in many directions and has a sweeping reach:' I agree. And it is called Google.

The tentacles of a web presence are inextricably managed, and indeed controlled, by this mighty online commerce platform best known for its search engine. Today, everyone seems to be using Google searches to replace the old way of checking up on people and businesses. Gone are the days of personal references and credit reports. Today, the real valuable stuff, at least for inquiring minds, is in the bowels of the online world, and a search is seemingly unbiased, revealing the good with the bad. You'll hear more about the inherent bias in Google's search engine results later. For now, understand that attacks focus on adding bad results, and getting rid of good results, when someone searches for you on Google.

In fact, the monsters of the web owe their existence to Google. They measure their worth to society by the Google page rank (a relative measurement used by Google to indicate the importance of a page in its eyes) of their latest attacks, tracking search results like a college football poll. There must be a real sense of power in being able to decide who you will ruin today as you arise each morning. Skip the caffeine and go straight to the jugular. And the monsters of the web are thieves in the worst way. They steal your name and your reputation, strip from your grasp the opportunities our America offers, convert your pride to embarrassment and your honor to shame. The sword they wield is Google, playing the role of the powerful aircraft, laden with misery soon to come and without rival as a delivery mechanism. And the major package to be delivered is the Google Bomb.

When the Road Forks, Take It

Google Bomb

Why is Google so important? Because everyone is coming to the Google party. If you want to visit, you don't need directions to Mountain View, California. You don't need directions from the San Francisco airport. I bet you could go up to a good ole country boy on some back road in Georgia, listen intently to his directions to take the fork in the road when you get to it, and still easily find Google with no further assistance. Searching online is becoming synonymous with Google. "Go ogling" is becoming a coined verb for searching online, much to Google's consternation. But have you ever stopped to consider who is really searching for you?

• That prospective employer.
• And your boss.
• The bank.
• Your child's teacher.
• Your social club.
• The kids' colleges of choice.
• Your credit card company.
• The local public utility.
• Cable television.
• Your trash collector.
• The Little League. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and just about every charitable or nonprofit to which you offer your time.
• The parents of your children's friends.
• Your children's friends.
• Your children.
• Your children's children.
• And so on for generations to come.
• Your tennis partner.
• Your workout companion.
• The neighbor next door.
• Next weekend's date.
• Your classmates.
• And anyone and everyone you know.
• Your competitors in business.
• Your clients or customers.
• The vendors.
• Job candidates.
• The Press.
• And just about everyone who does business with you.

The monsters of the web know all about how important the Internet is to you. And they know the buttons to push. If you are a stay-at-home mom, they'll scare you with suggestions of home invasion. If you are a lawyer, they attack your intellect. A plastic surgeon becomes a "butcher:' Ministers are sexual deviants. The athlete is on steroids. The debutante is anorexic. The builder uses rotten lumber. The police are drunks. And on and on. They cut to the core. No doubt that security for moms, intelligence for lawyers, manual dexterity for surgeons, fidelity for ministers, natural ability for athletes, health for beauty queens, structural integrity for home builders, and sobriety for cops are core issues. And those are the targets of the monsters of the web. Picture this in your mind:

One day a not-so-friendly acquaintance spitefully decides that you should be labeled a "deadbeat parent" for owing child-support arrears of over $100,000. It's published on a newspaper forum by a jealous coworker, a competitor, or a local bully ... it does not matter. "Someone" sees it and comments on a community website that the local newspaper has you listed as a deadbeat parent. And off it goes, within days taking over the first five pages of results on Google. Years from now some of the comments and posts will remain, indexed for all to see when your name is searched. Unless your name is Tiger Woods or Barack Obama, recently voted the two most recognized faces on the planet, in which case the results may fortunately be buried for posterity's sake due to the massive coverage taking up the first couple of hundred Google results.

The problem is, of course, that you have never missed a child-support payment in your life. In fact, you and your wife still live happily at home with all of your kids. You start calling a dozen or so of your old girlfriends from what seems like a century ago and inquire as to how they are doing, how their kids are, and not so subtly asking each if there is anything you should know. Assured no skeletons are lingering in the closet, you go visit the commentary on the web sites that dominate your online reputation. New posts are now coming at a rapid rate about your telephone calls ... you are reportedly on the prowl, calling women and propositioning them. And the comments all include links with your name to the other lies.

Finally, you can take no more. You go online, and since you don't want to be obvious, you act as if you are someone else, and start defending yourself. This feeds the flames, posts accuse you of using an alias, and you run off as quickly as possible. As you end the web browser session with a crisp click, you skip closing down the programs and go straight to powering down your laptop. Then you go and remove the power cord from your computer, remove the Internet connection cord, and go over and unplug your router. You pull the car into the garage, turn off the outdoor floodlights on the house, lock all the doors, pull the drapes and shades, turn down the volume on the TV, and you wait. I have no idea what you are waiting for, but you've just gone through a virtual mugging and, frankly, you're not handling it well.

And for the next two years, credit applications are denied, your cable television company insists upon prepayment, that Little League head coaching position goes to a pal of yours, the kids don't have as many "sleepovers," clients of your business ask a lot more questions, and party invitations evaporate.

You've been Google Bombed. And as you seek cover and look for a fallout shelter, the best directions offered are that "you can't get there from here."

It's true that all roads at one point led to Rome. Now they lead to Google, no matter what fork you take.

I field calls from allover the world on what seems like a daily basis. A long description of a particularly vicious attack is usually followed by a simple question from me: "Do you realize it could get much worse?" As I list three or four more things that could happen I hear nothing but a stunned silence, a choice expletive, and a whispered prayer. Yes, it can get much, much worse. And for Sue, it did.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:28 pm

NO GOOD DEED SHALL GO UNPUNISHED

"Sue Scheff is destroying lives ... I want others to know. If you don't want to hear it then go elsewhere. You support her ... I am posting on this board to tell others about PURE, Inc., and all the players who are associated with PURE, Inc."


Even years later these words have the impact of a sucker punch I didn't see coming. It's one of many posts on the open forum where most of the damage was done and later presented as exhibits to the Florida jury that set a historic precedent with their stunning award for PURE -- and me -- on that beautiful September day in 2006. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Turning back the clock to August of 2003, when the above post exploded from my computer screen, my initial shock subsided enough for a good dose of anxiety to kick in. How many other posts had appeared on this forum, saying such terrible things about me? Was it just Clark? Or were there other people bad-mouthing me, and what on earth could I have done to deserve such a thing?

PURE had really taken off at the time, and I was thrilled to not only provide assistance to those in need, but to be able to make a living -- not a tremendous amount of money, but certainly enough to get by -- with the priceless benefit of doing something I love. There aren't many people who can say that and I was counting my blessings. In between researching and evaluating programs and offering guidance and support to the hundreds of parents looking for help, my days were full.

I want to stress that I decided long ago that I would never charge parents for my time or services, so my sustenance depended, and still does, upon fees from various programs that meet with my personal approval. Not that my recommendations have ever been contingent on receiving a fee. There have always been programs deserving of recommendation that never compensated me for sending families their way. I go into such details on my website, www.helpyourteens. com/faq.php, if you'd like to know more.

Anyway, as soon as I got past the initial shock of learning that I, Sue Scheff, was destroying lives, it became apparent that I wasn't the only one getting bashed. A post from the day before involved someone from the IntrepidNetlTrekkers listserv, who had questioned Clark about a statement she'd made concerning me and Steve, the individual whose name I had passed along when Clark had first contacted me, asking for help in retrieving her sons from a teen program in Costa Rica.

"Steve stayed and visited another school while in Costa Rica at my expense," Clark responded to the inquiry." He lied. I have the bills, the cancelled receipts, and the proof that Steve took me for a ride. I have the emails from Sue and her pushing me to take Steve with me. I have it all!!! You better learn to be right about what you say ... You know nothing about what has happened. Keep your mouth shut until you do! Nobody knows the extent of what my boys and I have been through, you idiot. Why do you continue to be so stupid? One more thing. You said, 'I'm not clear on some of this.' Are you clear on ANYTHING?"


And then, following the thread, I read this, another response from Clark to someone else who was wondering what all the fuss was about:

"Sue Scheff, she recommended Steve, the consultant. He stirred it up good. He was the biggest con of all. Just like Sue. He took us for a ride. A money ride. She is responsible for her part in that."


Well, I guess that explains where some of Clark's anger was coming from. Only, I never pushed her to take anyone with her to the school. I simply gave her the name of the one person I knew within the industry who was familiar with that particular program and Costa Rica, where I had never been. I had nothing to do with Clark's decision to hire him, no knowledge of the financial details they worked out for him to accompany her. Steve was an educational consultant who seemed to have the credentials she was looking for, and if indeed he took financial advantage of Clark, that's very wrong, but I had no part in it and most definitely was not a recipient of any ill-gotten gain.

Needless to say, at this point my stomach had hit the floor faster than my jaw could follow. I'm trying to find the words to express the initial effect this had on me physically, mentally, emotionally, and ... there's just no way to adequately describe the indescribable. And, even if there were, how could I possibly describe what I felt when things quickly got worse? Or, as John has said, much, much worse.

Once I found this open forum where my name and PURE had become a hot topic, I watched in stunned disbelief as Clark kept posting, faster and faster, in what seemed to be an escalation to some point of no return. Within a few days, she posted:

"Sue, you are going down. I bet you are scared to death! You know you are going down ... because what you have done and are doing is wrong!!!!"


If you would, just for a moment, try to put yourself in my shoes. What would you do? Would you respond? Would you reach out and attempt to reason with someone who was so certain of their resentment against you, even if you didn't understand it yourself? Would you stay silent and hope the waking nightmare would just go away?

Only you can decide what you might have done in the same circumstance (and John can tell you what you should do), but being the one in the thick of it, I made the best decision I could at the time: I did not immediately react. I kept my silence. I did have friends, however, on the Trekkers listserv who did not keep theirs. Without my knowledge they took it upon themselves to contact Clark via e-mail and even phone, asking her to stop what was rapidly escalating into a full-blown attack-which only got worse with each well-intended attempt at intervention.

I believe in accountability, and in all honesty some of my supporters got caught up in the heat of the moment and said some things to Clark that were better left unsaid. But it also became clear that no matter how diplomatically, reasonably, or intelligently my defenders tried to intervene, their attempts to mediate only fueled the fire that was accelerating at a breakneck pace.

Did I say a fire? Make that more like a tsunami on speed.

One of the early waves of punishment I didn't see coming were publicly posted e-mails marked "Confidential" that had been privately exchanged between me and Clark in, shall we say, happier days when I was trying to provide some good-faith assistance. Not that anyone reading the open forum would gather as much after a neat bit of editorial commentary to cast me in the worst possible light. Others were not immune to the same public exposure that had been intended for Clark's eyes only.

Why was I being targeted? Why me? Why the backlash against anyone who dared to defend me? These questions kept rolling through my head, and while I didn't have any answers, it did begin to dawn on me that I could be experiencing an unexpected repercussion directly related to the sort of business I was in.

Although virtually anyone can become a target for cyberattacks, I started to realize that certain industries and the individuals associated with them might run a higher risk than others, due to the sort of traffic and personalities they have a tendency to attract. In the field of at-risk teens and the various programs that address the troubling issues they and their families are facing, a lot of strong emotions can surface: fear, anger, confusion, vulnerability, resentment, and deep love. When a teen is placed in a good program that results in the desired outcome for them and their families, it's a beautiful thing that alters the course of lives in a wonderful, positive way.

However, not all endings are happy ones, and bad programs have done terrible damage to the young in need of help, often leaving emotional scars that even time may never heal. Again, I've talked at length about this industry and my personal experience with it in Wits End. That book is about a very different subject than what this one is all about, but there is little doubt my involvement in a particularly sensitive area of social services had a lot to do with my exposure for retaliation, no matter how undeserved it might be.

Thinking back, let's consider who would have been taking a look at, or actively participating in, the open forum where all this damage was being done to my good name and the reputation of my organization. The primary emphasis was on troubled teen programs. Parents looking for advice and resources could find the link with the key words typed into a search engine. Professionals such as school counselors, family therapists, or psychologists would be good candidates while doing a little online research. And then there are those who have been burned and want to vent, who adopt assumed identities, such as "Dysfunction Junction" (one of my more vocal detractors), or anonymously want the world to know their opinion (lots of those), or proudly sign their names as they post and post and post -- which is exactly what Clark had no qualms about doing. In fact, the handy little post tracker beside her name indicates that she had 556 posts between January 18, 2003, and July 24 the same year.

Five hundred and fifty-six posts in six months. Wow. And that's before I even found out about the website!

On the heels of all my stunning new discoveries, another development suddenly surfaced. Just as I had protectors unsuccessfully trying to come to my aid, Clark found an ally who was far more successful in promoting the ongoing attacks: the founder of the website from which the attack campaign originated.

What made this person such a willing recruit? Apparently one of her purposes in founding the forum was to provide a website for those with bad program experiences to report. And, as you might guess, she was able to commiserate after having had a damaging experience herself.

There are three main characters in this story whose names I have changed for reasons already explained, and L. Smith, Clark's second-in- command, is number two.

I would be interested in what personality types John thinks Clark and Smith fall into when it comes to the monsters of the web he was earlier discussing. "Mobosphere" is a term he coined, and I can tell you that a mob mentality did begin to take over, led in part by Smith who zealously took up the charge and protected Clark while bashing me with equal amounts of fervor.

For example, when one of my own defenders piped up on the forum with a post that reads in part, "[Clark], you have made accusations that you cannot back up because that's exactly what they are, accusations, not the TRUTH!" It was Smith who replied, "Divide and conquore (sic) isn't going to work here, you sad, angry little people."

The "accusations" of course, consisted of the malicious statements that were gathering momentum on Smith's website in the form of open posts, most of them initially authored by this gang of two.

And as I watched this whole crazy thing escalate faster than a speeding bullet and become more powerful than a locomotive, I started to notice something else happening. Something just as scary and equally out of my control: when I did a Google search on Sue Scheff and PURE, the open forum where my organization and I were being trashed had begun to inch up, closer and closer to the top results.

The Three Amigos: SEO

Search Engine Optimization


A little insight into how people search on the web is helpful because that is at the center of many online attacks. Understanding the three amigos, the three indispensable components involved in gathering, organizing, and presenting information online, is essential. The first is the search function (S), the second is the engine driving results (E), and the third is optimization (O) for the purpose of influencing the results of a search.

So if a tree falls in the woods, and no one hears or sees it, did it fall? Yeah, it did. But who cares? Only the guy who had the misfortune to park his ATV under it and go off on a hike, I guess. If someone online publishes hurtful, private, and false information about you on the web, and no one finds it, who cares? You might, but it is usually not a huge deal. It can become a big deal, though, thanks to search engines. And that's what Sue was about to find out as she watched the forum comments reach to the top of the search results when someone searched her name on Google.

I've heard more than one person tell a new acquaintance to "just Google me:' You won't hear that phrase in this book because we respect Google's trademark protection efforts to keep its name from becoming a verb. Google, as I am sure you know, is primarily a search engine website running electronic programs ("spiders") allover the Internet so it can capture the results and index them. Algorithms are used to figure out what should be presented when a search is conducted. If you own a restaurant, and your competition seems to always be ahead of you in search results when someone searches for a restaurant in your area of town, Google thinks they are more important than you. Maybe they are using legitimate means to get where they are, or maybe the dishwasher, in between seatings, is going online and raving about how great their food is. Clearly he has dirty hands in more ways than one. That's a problem for you, but probably not the problem that you really need to be most worried about.

You should understand that getting a top result on a search could be very profitable for a business. I'm sure the first result returned, which would be a link to a website, for a search like "refinance my mortgage" made someone very rich. Even first page results, which on a Google results page is the top ten, can be highly sought after and profitable positions. Consequently, when Google began taking off in popularity (now by far the search engine of choice in the United States), businesses and consultants ran over to the U.S. Patent Office, found the Google patent for how the algorithms work, and tried to build web sites catering to the key indicators of popularity and relevance. This is called "SEO" (search engine optimization), and it means what it says ... optimizing the characteristics of a website for high search engine results.

There is "on page" SEO, which includes things you can do on your own webpage or web property to be indexed high, and there is "off page" SEO, which involves actions you can take elsewhere on the web, like building up links, registering with directories, and creating a buzz about yourself. Those are important terms because, ultimately, the entire goal of prevalent search engines today is to return the most reliable and relevant indexed results. The better the results, the more people will be happy using the search engine. That means more eyeballs to notice, and fingers to click on, those little "sponsored ads" that you see on the results page. Every click makes the search engine money. So the search engine ranks what it finds based upon the authority of the result, and a heavily linked site or post is seen by a search engine as the online world's vote that the site is authoritative. I'll spend some time later discussing how this is unscrupulously used to attack a target.

My explanation so far is simplistic. Suffice it to say that an entire industry now exists on the web that focuses solely on trying to get top ranking for web results to drive traffic and increase sales for businesses. Also, there is another form of SEO that has taken off over the past couple of years: social network SEO. As you might imagine, this has everything to do with using social networks to rank higher.

You will need to understand SEO, at least at a high level, to appreciate what others with bad intent can do to you. And fortunately what you can do for yourself. So imagine these "SEO" techniques, instead of being used positively to build up an "online reputation" (which is a key phrase to understand and basically refers to the online image of a person or business based upon search engine results), are used to attack. You wonder why the place next door is booming with business all of a sudden -- they even had lines out the door and people with children waiting in the cold rain without umbrellas! -- while your restaurant sat empty ... except for the people at the bar waiting for their reservation to be called next door. Well, Mr. Dishwasher decided to start dissing your restaurant with lies ... roaches on the walls, glass in the ice bins, food poisoning galore. And because he read this book, he knows exactly how to SEO those posts so the defamatory comments are showing up in search results when someone checks out your reputation. Okay, let's be realistic. He probably didn't read the book. Someone read it to him.

How big is this problem? An entire industry appropriately called "reputation management" has arisen to deal with it. These consultants (yes, I'll tell you some of their secrets later) are hired by people and businesses alike to either build an online "firewall" against a defamation attack or deal with repelling an attack and rehabilitating a reputation. There are ways to push down the negative Google results and move positive search results ahead. Sound familiar? Yep, SEO is being used to counteract SEO.

So as Sue is attacked in the early stages, these outrageous attacks are prominent for all to see when she is searched. Businesses spend great sums each year making sure this does not happen to them. But how do individuals, families, or small businesses protect themselves? There's no online marketing budget to tap into. The good news is that there is a lot you can do at no cost and with relatively little effort.

Neither Sue nor I are against the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the concept of free speech. We're not writing about snarking or sarcasm or parodies or fair use. We aren't focused on helping businesses with public relations and improving their customer satisfaction levels. This book is about the perpetration of vicious and unlawful attacks using falsehoods and pretense to ruin people's lives.

Sue is just beginning to understand she has a problem. A big problem. Growing bigger by the day. No "three amigo salute" is going to save the day, to be sure.

A Sweater with a Target on the Back

The Initial Response


The biggest challenge you will face when confronted with an attack on your good name is resolving a confounding problem. Let's assume that you are not intimately familiar with the three amigos: search, engine, and optimization (SEO). Do you sit back and take it? Do you strike out against your attackers, knowing in your heart and mind that while you will feel a sense of satisfaction the action might very well lead to more severe responses from your foes? The helpless feeling of being torn between your heart, your mind, and your soul on the one hand, and good judgment on the other, has been part of society ever since Eve felt her first hunger pains. There's the rub.

To be or not to be, that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to -- 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub ...


Hamlet's soliloquy has inspired many a commentator to try and divine the true meaning of the words. Many read the choice between the life of action ("to be") and the life of silent acceptance ("not to be") as Hamlet's primary focus.

In this respect, what you do about the online arrows of your misfortune is a big decision. It's a bit of an overstatement in most instances to suggest that by taking arms against attacks you will be committing online suicide. But sometimes it is true. If you think that offering up a defense will lead to absolution by your foes, or contrition by your enemies, then you are likely very, very wrong. The more you object, and the more you take up arms directly against your "sea of troubles;' the more problems will likely arise. Look at Sue's situation. Didn't it escalate as her friends jumped in to defend her? So let's talk about that sea of troubles and see if Hamlet was onto something.

You are the lucky homeowner of a beautiful summer home on an East Coast barrier island. Every summer your wonderful view of the mighty Atlantic gets better. The sand dune that used to be an annoyance because it blocked your view of the dolphins frolicking in the waves grows shorter. And every summer the path to the beach, through that deep, hot sand, up and over the dune, gets easier to navigate even with the growing collection of plastic toys, beach chairs, coolers, sports equipment, and other absolutely essential accessories you haul. Life is good.

But one morning you wake up to the sound of a bulldozer next door. Your neighbor has decided to make life really, really good. He is leveling the sand dune on his property and will in short order be enjoying a wonderful view and easy ocean access.

You first notice the dark lines on your neighbor's newly minted beach volleyball court located, conveniently, where the old dune used to reside. As the full moon approaches, the water line reappears each morning closer and closer to his house. You know it's a high-tide mark, and a sign of trouble to come. Your neighbor, however, appreciates that his volleyball court base is being compacted to an almost perfect consistency by this welcome natural benefactor.

Over time, the crowds seem to grow along the beach, although the tourist bureau is reporting a drop in tourists. Little do you know it's because the waterline is moving closer to your treasured vacation retreat, pushing beachgoers up against the dune line out of necessity. And then, as you read the headlines of the morning paper, your visions of a good life at the ocean are turning into a personal "sea of troubles."

You see, the city council has just released a report that predicts the entire first row of beach front homes will be underwater in three years. You are on a barrier island, a mere spit of land intended by nature to migrate toward the mainland. Septic systems are already failing, the remaining dunes will soon be gone, the beach will disappear. Immediate actions are mandated: special taxes enacted to build seawalls, sea grass planted, sand fences installed, massive sand-replenishment programs undertaken, and homes with failing septic systems condemned. How are things now? Your path to the beach is obstructed, and an orange "condemned" sign is firmly affixed to your neighbor's front deck with little BB holes in it from the kids down the block using it as a target. And you wonder how long you have.

Do you just abandon your dream house? Or do you fight back? And if you fight back, is all for naught? By building that personal seawall, or by installing the jetty, will these seemingly prudent acts be suicidal? Is the entire island a lost cause, a soon-to-be relic of the past that one day will be discovered by underwater explorers who could not have imagined anyone foolish enough to build on what was once a barrier island?

There's the rub. How do you know what to do when under an attack? Do you sit back and suffer the misfortune of being the target? Or do you take up arms? And by responding, do you give your attackers a neatly wrapped present of slings and arrows? Consider the likely gift from them in return: an orange sweater with a target on the back!

The first and most important step in managing an online attack is to figure out whether it can be ignored. Ask yourself these questions in the evaluation stage:

1. No matter what was said, is it likely to be seen?

2. If it is seen, is it perceived as credible by those who matter to you?

3. If it sounds credible, is it damaging, now or in the future, to you or yours?

4. If damaging, could it be the start of a bigger attack?


Is it likely to be Seen?

Where is it showing up in Google results when your name is searched? This is the biggest issue. If it is not present on Google search results, then there is often no need to worry. But if it is, monitor it daily and see the direction it is moving. Momentum is important because a defamatory post buried in the depths of Google's results today could be the number one result when you are searched tomorrow. To take this a step farther, you can begin to get a sense of the broader picture. Is the post "SEO'd" to intentionally and effectively target you? You may not be able to figure this out, but a professional can often decipher intent by simply viewing and researching the attack page and related or participating online properties. If you can figure out the motivation, you can begin to understand the post in proper context and map out a much more effective response.

Is it credible?

Is the posting anonymous? Or has someone actually used his real name, which lends credence to the comment. Does it sound legitimate? Details imply truth. Is it "over the top" and an amalgamation of disjointed allegations joined with poor grammar and vulgarity that places the source in a poor light? Are others "piling on" in agreement?

Is it damaging?

One of the most difficult things to do is to ignore an outright lie told about you. But in the online world, it needs to be done. The most egregious forms of attack target your ethics and morals, particularly in relation to family and business. You may not like that someone is criticizing your appearance or making fun of you online. It's often tasteless and inappropriate. But if someone claims you are a horrible soccer player, or certain body parts are not real, or you are a loser, set aside your pride and ask yourself if it really is hurting you, your family, your profession, or your business. Use discretion. Don't sweat the small stuff. You'll go crazy. I recommend you have a friend take a look and tell you whether the content is a problem. When under attack, the victim often either overreacts or ignores the issue. You are looking for a balanced, objective perspective on the damage the attack may visit upon you, your family, your business, your reputation, and your life.

Could it be the start of bad things to come?

In and of itself, is the post a sign of bad things to come? Nipping a problem in the bud is important. As a business, a seemingly hurtful comment from a legitimate customer could be dealt with in an open and conciliatory manner and defuse any potential onslaught to come. But, honest complaints are unfortunately not what we are addressing. Is the false comment located on a site that has a history of "followers" vociferously engaging in new issues? As an extreme example, if a single comment makes it onto Slashdot.com, a website focused on tech news for techies, the comments all over the web and resulting website traffic can be overwhelming in a matter of hours ("slashdotted"). And importantly, are there threats in the post about what is to come next? If you'll recall in Sue's case, she was warned: Sue you are going down, along with some other choice words of warning. That's a red flag.

Make sure you approach the problem and possible solutions realistically. No one is going to be able to force Google to pull down results pointing to false and defamatory commentary absent a court order or request by the website owner. And getting an injunction is an expensive process with many complicating factors. If you think the site is going to readily pull down the content, the vast majority of the time the site will refuse to do so. In fact, there is every reason for them not to change content, including self-preservation under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which is the federal law that grants immunity to website owners for defamation posted by third parties. All the owner has to do is refuse to edit or remove anything and the immunity applies without exception. Which, in turn, means that you can rarely convince a website to get rid of outrageous lies and attacks. Section 230 of the CDA should be the "Online Toxic Waste Facilities Act." It has the effect of making third-party-content websites virtual dumpsters packed full of trash-talking, flaming, and live Google Bomb ordinance. These sites can become cesspools of miscreant deviance bubbling over with poisonous cauldrons spewing hatred and lies. Welcome to Section 230, the veritable poster child for unanticipated consequences.

If you post a rebuttal, it will make the site or page more powerful and relevant in the eyes of Google and the result will be more prominent. It's known as "bumping" a post and you are doing the job of your detractors. You'll find evidence of this tactic online; usually every so often an anonymous coward seems to show up from nowhere and add a comment to a disparaging blog or forum entry, knowing that search engines love fresh content. And don't be fooled by the site that either invites or tries to shame you into responding and defending yourself. No matter how effective your rebuttal may seem to be to you, a response will "bump" the problem into greater prominence and relevance in the search engine results, which then turns your headache into a migraine. This is doubly dangerous since "bumping" the negative information potentially introduces the "Streisand Effect" into the equation, which is something to avoid if at all possible. It is commonly defined as a phenomenon in which an attempt to censor 'or remove a piece of information on the web backfires, causing greater publicity. It is named after Barbra Streisand, who filed a lawsuit to get aerial photographs of her home removed from the web for privacy and safety reasons. Basically, a group of people gang up on someone and they all start promoting the problem being complained about so that it becomes much more publicized. It once again depends upon a mob mentality for its success. The promotion is typically driven by either the broad republication of the objectionable material and/or attack commentary. But the real trick is that the participants, and they could number into the thousands from all corners of the globe, start linking to each other again and again but with the target's name in the link. They are using "off-page SEO" through links to have Google present the attacks in results when the complaining party's name is searched on Google. Links are some of the most powerful tools used in search engine optimization, so it's no surprise that this works so well. In Streisand's case, the resulting backlash of global commentary caused almost half a million visitors from around the world to peek at the images of her humble abode. The ironic twist is that these free-speech fanatics perceive they are protecting the free flow of information on the web by mounting such an attack, but will have no problem threatening to use a "Streisand" attack in order to discourage, intimidate, and suppress the speech of the party originally aggrieved by misconduct. It's like the neighborhood bullies and thugs sending a very clear message to keep quiet and not speak out.

This is why it is so important to build up defenses online before troubles begin. I'll be showing you how to do that. Some of you will find yourself under serious attack and exposed before that seawall is built, your sand dunes regenerated, or the beach replenished. If that happens, consider getting the expert strategists and tacticians involved before trying to "self-help" yourself by directly engaging with the enemy. If you are going to take up arms in an online neighborhood, be prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Because while you may think you are going to war with body armor you're actually wearing a bright orange sweater ... with a target on the back. And those online neighbors might just show up with bulldozers.

Obfuscating, Aggregating, and Deleting as a Pastime

Anonymous Speech


Sue is in such a difficult position because she knows she is being attacked unfairly with lies in a virtual-world assassination. At least she sees what is happening and knows the source. But as she looks around, things are becoming murky. People are jumping into the discussions from all directions, anonymously and with pseudonyms. Who are these people? And why are they saying these things about me? At least she knew the identity of her attackers in the beginning. Now, they speak anonymously, constrained not in the least by society's norms and mores of conduct. She is scared of the unknown. She asks herself over and over again: What right do they have?

Well, the right to speak anonymously is an important aspect of our right to free speech. Free speech, of course, is wisely protected by the First Amendment. And the Supreme Court has consistently protected the right to anonymous speech ... "protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. " Today that seemingly sacrosanct right to hide behind anonymity or pseudonyms (assumed names) is becoming more and more at risk. And it should be.

There are a lot of reasons why the Internet should change the Supreme Court's opinion about the sanctity of anonymous speech. Today there is no expense to be incurred in speaking anonymously, the geographic reach of anonymous speech is not merely local but global, the damage capable of being caused by anonymous comments online is greater, the distribution channels are unlimited, the impact of the speech itself can be manipulated by technical methodologies, the recipients of anonymous speech can be artfully controlled and the public benefit diminished, and the true identity of the anonymous speaker can be wiped out of existence in seconds. The day will likely come when the Supreme Court addresses anonymous speech and strips away anonymous-speech rights if things keep going the way they are today.

Many anonymous posters bent on perpetrating online attacks, whether just using the anonymity label or a pseudonym or even an assumed identity, are cowards. They are scared to disclose their identity because they don't have the courage to stand up for their "convictions." And they are scared to get caught. Free anonymous speech is their virtual ski mask as they threaten and rob families and businesses of their livelihoods and good names. Their lawyers will argue that the right to anonymous speech is at the foundation of our country as they point to the Federalist Papers written anonymously by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in support of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

On the other hand, during this same time, fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. Maybe John Hancock just had bad vision, but my guess is that his signature was a courageous statement to all the land that he believed so mightily in the words that he was not afraid to deal with the consequences. What would have become of our founding fathers' dreams if the signatures were of "Julius Caesar," "Genghis Khan," and the eponymous "anonymous"?

Having said all of this, the good news is that there is no absolute right to online anonymity. The courts have long recognized the need to unmask those who hide behind false identities on the Internet. Those who defame, those who spam, those who hack, and in some circumstances those who use wrongful commercial speech ... their anonymity is rarely protected. Every computer or network has an Internet Protocol (IP) address, much like a street address. Legal subpoenas to a website will net the IP address of the offender, and a follow-up subpoena to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) will identify the user of the IP address at the time of the "anonymous speech:' This usually works well.

But there are often two practical impediments that could arise in trying to unmask an anonymous speaker. ISPs usually only hold onto their records for short periods of time. This is changing, and there have been efforts in Congress to mandate records retention, probably because a major e-mail provider had a policy of disposing of all records after ninety days and this hampered the prosecution of a 9/11 terrorist mastermind. We should all encourage such legislation.

The other hurdle is more troublesome. The website itself hosting the targeted comments may elect to not keep its records of who visited and what was done. These automatically generated records are known as log files, and many of the public-interest groups openly publish directions on how to get rid of these files and the personally identifiable information that could identify a scofflaw. They even have names for the three techniques recommended: obfuscation, aggregation, and deletion. Nowhere do they mention to their constituents that once notice of a claim that might require the production of such records is received, it is against the law to delete the log files. Some might wonder, as I do, how this endeavor is in the "public interest"?

So what to do? We need Congress to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to require the complete maintenance of log files indefinitely in order for websites to get immunity. Consider what your Congressman would do if you and yours write a letter and sign it "anonymous;' demanding such a change? You'll need the courage to actually lay claim to your communication. But be careful out there. The free-speech expansionists will attack you by inciting their considerable fanatical constituencies to begin a shaming and taint-by-association campaign. Wondering what that might look like? Follow along.

Sue is about to learn all about it.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:31 pm

THE SCARLET LETTER

"Sue Scheff is the biggest fraud there ever was .... "

"My family was exploited by PURE and Sue Scheff .... "

"Cons like Sue need to be exposed .... "

"She places kids in risky programs .... "

"I do not want to see children sent to yet another abusive program at the hands of Sue and P.U.R.E ... . I want to be sure they do not fall prey to her .... "

"Sue does not know anything about what it means to tell the truth. A lot of it is about her website and the lies that are found on there. The lies are related to false advertising .... "

"It has to do with her lack of ethics and her lack of professionalism .... "

"PURE and Scheff and her associates are crooks .... plain and simple .... "

"PURE's behavior puts everyone at risk. I suggest all those associated with PURE take a step back and reflect!"

"PURE will damage the credibility of anyone who is associated with them .... "


And the hits just keep on coming, folks! When Clark said, "Sue you are going down," it wasn't an idle threat. As for me being scared to death ... not just yet. But mortified? Humiliated? Angry? You bet. With probably ten other emotions all rolled into the biggest, messiest ball of confusion imaginable.

And there seemed to be nothing I could do about it. Aw, c'mon, you could have done SOMETHING, you might be thinking -- and as I'm writing this, knowing what I know now ... I have to remind myself that in 2003 there weren't nearly as many resources available for me to turn to. If only I had known John and had access to his legal smarts. If only I knew then what I know now. If only, if only, if only ...

Unfortunately I can't turn back the hands of time and do things differently, but what I can do is offer a template of what an online character assassination looks like. It's ugly. But from a distance, and when it's not you, it's rather fascinating, maybe a little shocking, and for those who enjoyed The Exorcist, it might even be mildly entertaining. Like a bad car wreck you can't tear your eyes away from.

What's truly awful is that a lot of innocent bystanders get hit along the way. Maybe they're in the passenger seat, trusting you have control of the steering wheel when the tires hit a patch of black ice. Maybe they're well-meaning observers at the initial site of the scene trying to direct traffic. Or could be they're an associate standing too close to the "Information Highway," and if they don't get out of the way and quick -- smack! They're road kill.

Taint by association. Make no mistake. Even your most trusted allies can come to a point that the instinct for survival overtakes the highest moral ground. Think of it this way: Do you try to save a drowning man going under for the last time or save yourself because he can't swim anyway and the safety of shore is getting further from sight? If you choose the first option, probably neither of you will make it. But if you do the smart thing, as difficult as the decision is to make, at least one of you has a chance of living another day. Besides, there's a spouse and kids and your own business to consider. And, all things considered, only a fool would choose otherwise.

A public shaming has to be one of the worst things anyone can experience, whether it takes place in a small community or on the larger stage of media coverage. But I think what took me aback as my own shaming took off and was propelled into the stratosphere, was not only my lack of ability to defend myself in the court of public opinion, but that the court itself had no checks and balances in place. Even if yellow journalism reeks from a tabloid magazine, there is still a measure of accountability for what's going to print. And since most newspapers try to be careful so the editor doesn't have to print a retraction or make an apology, why shouldn't a website owner be required to maintain some standard of civil discourse, have some responsibility attached to their ownership of a cybernewsstand that's producing written material?

It made no sense to me then and it makes no sense to me now, this absolute free-for-all ability to say virtually anything about anyone without a shred of proof or a drop of truth to it and present it as confirmed fact for all the world to see. But the thing is this: when you're being publicly defamed, you don't want anyone to know, you don't want anyone to see, because not only is it painfully embarrassing, once a lie gets repeated again and again, it starts to have the ring of truth, and if it's starting to make you question yourself then surely others are going to step back and wonder if there just might be a little validity to these accusations after all.

I did not want anyone to know. I didn't want anyone to see. I didn't tell my friends or my family. My sense of humiliation went that deep. The public shaming was doing its job.

As for my job, while I was still getting in my car each morning and driving to my office, my upbeat attitude was replaced with caution, a sense that I needed to keep looking over my shoulder, and a creeping suspicion that the reason my phone wasn't ringing quite as much as usual was because word was spreading within the community that my reputation might not be as sterling as once believed -- and remember, this is a community where reputation is everything and must be protected at all costs. Since the reputations of your closest associates are just as precious to them as yours is to you, well, better be careful standing too close because this thing could be contagious. After all, who wants to be linked to a scam and have their own credibility kicked into the gutter?

There's no way I could make this stuff up. It's the real deal. Read on:

From Anonymous: "What Steve did was totally fraudulent. Sue played a part in all of this. A Significant part, and therefore they both should be held accountable."

Clark responds: "Yes. (What they've done) is called a scam, a scam orchestrated by a group of individuals. People can and should be held accountable for their actions (Steve, Scheff, the Trekkers)."


Who is "Anonymous"? Is it someone I know? And now the Trekkers are being held accountable ... for what? What did they do besides vote to remove Clark from the group and then try to stick up for me? And she's not through with them yet:

"I am talking about PURE/Trekkers and those I have had experience with. All they have is each other and the stories they have come up with. If you're (involved with them) I feel sorry for you. They are not honest and truthful people."

From Anonymous: "So, it's just the Trekker's that are liars, according to you."

Clark responds: "I am saying that Sue/PURE are liars. If you stand by them you stand by liars. That leads me to believe the truth does not matter to you."


Again, who are these anonymous people? Is this the same "Anonymous" or another one? Maybe a different one since this second anon poster doesn't seem as hostile as the first. But then, some more anonymous people show up, piling on the, um, compliments:

"I think that red sweater (she's wearing) is to set off the fake 'glamour shot photo,' anything to try and make herself look a little bit better. It ALMOST works."


What photo is this person talking about? Are pictures being posted of me on some other website, is there something else happening that I don't know about? And am I starting to show some signs of paranoia? Because I'm looking at this next post from another "Anonymous" who's directly addressing me, as if he/she knows I'm lurking and they're salivating to get in my face:

"Lady, if anyone here needs to think before they speak, it's you -- especially since you're setting yourself out as some caring mom who just wants to help others. You're withholding truth from people who trust you. There is no way you're going to convince me that you give a rat's ass about what happens to someone else's kid. And I hope you pay for your greediness and pseudo-philanthropy some day."


So ... I need to think before I speak around there. But I haven't whispered a word on this website. Is someone else pretending to be me? Snap out of it, Sue! Get a grip!

And yet, when people who have been in your corner are being repeatedly warned, "Sue is a problem. She is damaging to our credibility. People need to be steered away from the controversy that surrounds her. Anyone who is conversing with her needs to know this. Especially the parents ... " Let's just say getting a grip could be a bit more of a challenge than usual. Especially when parents are making inquiries and are getting responses like this:

From Anonymous parent: "I am looking for a therapeutic boarding school and have heard good things about the work PURE does. Am I misled? Help."

Dysfunction Junction responds: "Yes, you are SERIOUSLY misled. Please have a look at this forum to see what PURE is all about. Well, I'll save you some time. It's MONEY. More likely than not, you'll get a more f**ked up version back from whatever 'school' in which you incarcerate your kid. For your child's sake, ASK QUESTIONS."


Needless to say I didn't get a chance to respond to any questions the parent might have had to ask.

Besides realizing that my organization was in jeopardy of becoming permanently crippled with the online version of getting kneecapped with a baseball bat, it was becoming increasingly apparent that what started out as some sort of revenge by Clark, then aided by Smith, was gathering a cacophony of voices, many anonymous or pseudonymous, and those voices, while often shrill, had enough intelligence and reason sprinkled in to lend the gathering crowd a certain measure of credibility.

Meanwhile, my own credibility was being brought into question by some of my professional associates. What I did not know at the time, and would later discover from a witness deposition, is that my name was being removed from the Northern California school psychologist referral directory due to the backlash against a therapist who had recommended me many, many times in the past. Apparently one of his clients was doing their homework before contacting me and was appalled to discover that I was a crook and a fraud that exploited families and put children in risky programs. Oh, and since so many people had confirmed my status as a liar who suckered families in with false advertising, anyone who believed a word from the PURE website would do so at their children's expense. And so, as this educational psychologist colleague of mine would later testify, "1 immediately stopped referring people to Ms. Scheff and PURE ... because I felt that it was affecting my credibility if I referred any client to anyone that had so many assailable remarks about their services that were public information."

Are we having fun yet? No? Then let's invite some more VIPs to the party. How about the Broward County PTA? You know, the same county where I live and PURE is based. The same schools where I spent countless hours meeting with guidance counselors and speaking to groups, including of course, PTAs and PTOs.

Not one to be idle, Smith decided to leave a post on the Broward County PTAs discussion board. And what should it be regarding? Have a look:

RE: All snake oil salesmen!

From: (Smith)

Date: 04 Nov

Time: 20:25:04

Comments

I heard that PURE (Sue Scheff) has been recruiting through the Broward County School District. You should know that [redacted] is a part of the PURE network of schools and programs. It's an old, old scam. Seen it many times before. "Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again."

-- Mark Twain


Nice. Now Mark Twain gets quoted on recognizing one's mistakes (i.e., stop working with Sue Scheff or you'll be sorry) and Smith gets points for proving she's literate. As for the redacted name of the school she mentioned, it had lost its license due to a tragic occurrence, so what glee she had to take in asserting my advocacy for them. There are just a few hitches:

PURE doesn't own, operate, or manage any schools or programs, so to say we have a "network of schools and programs" is inaccurate since our primary purpose is to distribute information about a variety of programs (the good, the bad, the ugly), whether they pay us for recommending them or not. We never received any money from the program in question; it wasn't even the sort of program we would ordinarily tell a family about. And with regard to that tragic occurrence, PURE had absolutely nothing to do with it, not even remotely, so to directly link us not only to the program but to the reason it was closed down, is such a convoluted twisting of the truth ... give me a break.

Oh, BTW, I was not alerted to this posting until December 31, 2003. Happy New Year! Looking on the bright side, at least Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks might have slowed down the traffic of visitors to the Broward County PTA's discussion board.

Somewhere in that time frame my unlisted home phone number appeared on Smith's website. It was removed very quickly, almost as soon as I was notified about it by one of my remaining loyalists. But now I had to wonder, is this now moving to offline, personal attacks on me? Should I be expecting phone calls from this growing mass of detractors? What's going to happen next?

Several situations did arise to indicate the sown seeds of distrust were finding fertile ground. There was a story on my website that a young lady had submitted about her own experience in a program. Mary, as I'll refer to her since she is a minor whose name should not be brought into this mess, contacted me one day and asked me to remove her contribution. Which I did, no questions asked. Maybe a few weeks had passed when she got in touch again and apologized, saying her decision had been wrong and I could re-post her story if I so wished. She seemed upset and I didn't want to press her on the details, but I had an idea who might be behind this and decided to do a little investigating on Smith's website to see what I could turn up from the forum.

I didn't know exactly what I was looking for but it didn't take me long to find the "Ah-hah!" piece of evidence ... which is now reserved for posterity as Exhibits 3 and 4 of the trial exhibits. It seems that Clark decided to take it upon herself to send a personal e-mail to this young person, then proudly posted her handiwork on the open forum -- along with the girl's response. Starting from the bottom of the thread and working up, here goes:

"Hi Mary. I am the mother of the boys who were at the school in Costa Rica. I am writing to you because I saw that you posted on Sue Scheff's website. I want you to know that your creditability (sic) will be lost because of your association with her. She knows nothing about children and how to address their needs. The schools she places kids in are unregulated. So being associated with Sue is very dangerous."


Clark then posts Mary's private reply:

"Thank you for the advice and I appreciate it. I will definitely not associate with her anymore and try to take the story off her web.

-- Mary"


And then one of my defenders, someone from the Trekkers, responded:

"Mary took her story off PURE because YOU harassed her to."


To which Clark shot back:

"First of all did not harass her to do so. I simply told her Sue was very much one to be avoided, given her profession and all. Why do you people keep making this up? You make constant accusations that are so far from the truth. Learn to be more careful about what you say and what you accuse people of, then maybe someone will believe you."


Okay, just so we can make things more complicated than they already are, Mary had been involved with a film in production that dealt with the stories of teens abused in boot camps. I was not involved with the film in any way, but they had a link to PURE's "Helpyourteens.com" on their website since I had established a reputation as a trustworthy resource for parents of teens that needed information on effective and safe programs.

Having dealt with Mary, Clark decided to follow up with the director of the film, who we will call Bill. It didn't take much digging on my part to become privy to the private correspondence between him and Clark since, again, it was posted on the open forum. Here 'tis:

"Dear Bill,

You are going to have some problems on your hand with Mary and her association with your film. She is affiliated with Sue Scheff of PURE, Inc. Anyone who is affiliated with her will be found not creditable (sic).

-- M. Clark"

"Ms. Clark,

Mary is in no way associated with Sue Scheff. They have corresponded in the past, but have no affiliation whatsoever. We have done due diligence on Mary and she is an advocate of teens and stopping the abuse. I can't discuss it in any greater detail, but rest assured we are doing our best to have the utmost integrity with our film. FYI: the link to Help Your Teens is coming down until we can investigate it further.

Thanks so much.

-- Bill"


Clark then goes on to announce to the forum at large:

"Now if you look at the time on Mary's e-mail it was before I spoke with the director of the movie. I believe my speaking with both of them played a part in the removal of Mary's letter from the PURE, Inc. website."


I suppose this was a major victory for Clark. She was able to discredit me to someone else and get my link removed from their website. But I was still left with the never-ending question of: Why? What was driving her to ruin me? Could someone actually hold this much of a grudge for getting kicked of of a private listserv? She seemed to be feeding off the energy I was being drained of, and while she showed no signs of remorse for her infliction of injury on another human being, I didn't think she was crazy. This was all so calculated, so precise, like a surgeon wielding a cyberscalpel to eviscerate a living person minus anesthesia. Cruel? Yes. But it was more like being attacked by a master of mind games than the Mad Hatter.

I, on the other hand, had begun to suffer some emotional fallout. I wasn't able to sleep. I was starting to cry a lot in private. The smile that had been so quick before had become strained and forced when I attended meetings or public events. I wasn't hard-pressed to force too many smiles since my invitations were drying up.

I knew that if this didn't stop soon -- and things certainly didn't seem to be heading in that direction -- I would have no choice but to do ... something. What, I didn't know, but I realized the situation was approaching critical mass. After all, when I counted my blessings, I was sincerely grateful that at least my membership hadn't been revoked at the Better Business Bureau.

Flu Shots Don't Work After You Have the Flu

Search Engines as Reputation Engines


What Sue is quickly finding out is that Google is not only the leading search engine, it is the dominant and most trusted reputation engine. That means that someone doing research on a subject or looking you up will go to the Google search engine and see what everyone else is saying about an industry or you. As an individual, you should be protecting your personal name. As a business, you should be protecting your business brand as well as the reputation of individuals important to your business, like owners and executives. For most people, Google will be the only reputation engine you need to worry about. The ten results that come up on the first page are by far the most important. But even one negative result could offset the goodwill generated from the other nine positive results. So the challenge for individuals, small businesses, and the Fortune 500 is to control the first page of Google results as a starting point. Results on other pages are important, although most people only view the first page of results.

But think about it. The nature of the search will define the scope of reputation influence. If you are researching the name of your brain surgeon, you will go very deep in results, maybe even twenty-five pages. If you are checking out your hairdresser, a quick look at the first page of results may suffice. And motivation matters; if you have someone who is really looking to get you, that person's search will likely become very extensive in seeking out online skeletons in your closet for cannon fodder. Sue is beginning to see the impact of false and negative information online. These attackers are hurting her business in more ways than one: they are trying to ruin her reputation so that prospective clients will just take a pass on her business; they are going to community organizations and third parties and striking at the foundations of her credibility; and they are campaigning to cut off her source of referrals, a critical component in just about any business involved in counseling and the medical industry.

I've seen many people fret about a damaging comment made online that will likely never show up toward the top of Google results. Generally you don't need to sweat that. In fact, if you do, it could gain attention, create "piling on," and allow the post to morph into something that really does gain traction and show up high in Google results.

There are many websites that can create problems for your name and reputation, and each has to be dealt with on a one-off basis. If you sell on eBay you know about its reputation rating system. Amazon has one too. If you are in the travel industry, you are likely familiar with the leading rating services for hotels, resorts, and the like. There are web sites that serve as clearinghouses for reporting purported rip-offs and scams. And in Sue's case, she is dealing with a "review site" that is industry specific. If you are concerned enough to want to address everything said on the web about you, then there are reputation monitoring and management companies that can be helpful (we'll discuss this at more length later), and can range significantly in cost from a modest fee up to $10,000 per month for their services, depending on your needs. Be forewarned that you will soon find out that it is impossible to totally control your online image. But there are ways to approach false and defamatory attacks, gross privacy violations, and other related damaging information with or without the help of a reputation-management firm.

Deciding on how to approach the problem of being exposed to attacks online is a lot like dealing with the flu. You'll decide for yourself whether taking that flu shot is a wise choice. You'll decide your avoidance tactics when that friend of yours gets sick. And as the flu bug moves closer and closer to home, you'll decide when to act, if at all. When you wake up with that uneasy feeling, you'll wonder whether to go to the doctor or just visit your local pharmacy. If you're thinking ahead, you'll just go to your medicine cabinet. How you deal with work as your energy level diminishes, and what part of the bed looks most comfortable as the battle rages within you, are your decisions to make. In the aftermath, you'll decide what balls have been dropped and the pace and order of picking those up.

And so it is with managing the health of your online reputation.

The good news is whether you are proactive and decide to build up your defenses in advance, are vigilant in monitoring your environment, or are trying to deal with an existing attack, the tactics and tools are, for the most part, the same. The difference is in the timing. Flu shots don't work after you have the flu. So if you get sick, no matter how hard you may have tried to avoid it, you can use the same techniques to begin to combat the effects. Consider this guidance the contents of your virtual medicine chest. There is rarely a cure, but the effects can be managed. Obviously the best approach is to be well rested and healthy so you can avoid illness or curtail the duration and severity of the effects. Let's start out with discovering the symptoms ... and the early warning system you can put into place to tip you off that a problem is on the horizon.

Before we do so, remember the way things used to be. Community gossip is very frustrating because it is almost impossible to deal with early. The falsehoods are whispered behind your back, out of earshot, and you are often the last to know because your friends don't want to embarrass you. Not so on the web, thank goodness. Because with the open flow of information comes ... well ... the open flow of information. We are dealing with a two-sided sword and it cuts both ways. So you can easily set up an early notification system yourself in minutes to let you know whenever your name is mentioned online. Sue didn't do that, and she is suffering the consequences. Or you can get more extensive monitoring of your name with a number of reasonably priced commercial solutions. Even the World Bank offers a reputation monitoring system for free. And unlike the flu shot, you don't have to leave home, there is no risk of adverse reaction, and no needles are involved.

And, by the way, you'll find my thoughts on how you can immediately initiate your very own early warning system in the next section. It's really quite simple.

When the Water Is Receding, It's Too Late

Your Early Warning System

Sir Winston Churchill once said that" [a] lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

Let's first appreciate how much more quickly information flows today. Churchill was surely making the point that timely intelligence is critical. Fortunately, we can serve as our own intelligence agency by using free and easily implemented tools available to everyone with computer access. It is critically important that you get as much warning as possible of the beginning of a problem so you can prevent small annoyances from becoming full-blown mobosphere attacks. Everyone needs to be putting together an early warning system.

Remember the horrible sight of the waters receding far out to sea as the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami approached the beaches in 2004? Of course it was too late to build a seawall, reinforce the concrete in the buildings, or even prevent the outdoor furniture from becoming missiles. Some of the lucky ones were able to make a run for it and escape. But for many more who continued to frolic in the shallow waters, the vision of this strange occurrence meant it was simply too late. Let's be dear; this devastating and heartwrenching loss of life cannot be compared to anything we discuss in this book. But it should serve as a stark and tragic reminder that disasters do happen and can come with no warning. And it can serve as a call to action for you. Don't take a wait-and-see attitude with your online reputation. The first wave will come out of the blue, the second and third will gain power, and it will be too late to escape.

Back in 2003, at the beginning of Sue's problems, sneak attacks were not only possible, but prevalent. Today Sue has access to a broad range of tools, some of which existed in Sue's prewar years, and others that have arisen since then. If you take my advice, the likelihood of a Pearl Harbor-like sneak attack will be far less. It's safe to say that in the past six years the web has come a long way in allowing you to build up both effective defenses and a robust early warning system.

There are three primary things you have to be concerned about online. The first is the use of your name. The second is the use of your content. The third is the use of your site or web property by hackers. Obviously the use of your name is of paramount concern and will be the primary purpose of implementing an early warning system. But copyright and hacking issues are worth dealing with also at the same time, and do have some pertinence to online attacks against you and yours.

The three leading search engines are Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google. Each offers an "Alert" service. This means that you can ask a search engine to tell you whenever your name is mentioned. Put your name in as an alert on the simple online form, with your e-mail address, and you'll get an e-mail whenever that search engine runs across your name. Register on all three search engines, but the most important is Google. Remember, Google is the reputation engine, the dominant search engine, and the one you have to worry about the most. If Google doesn't find an attack coming at you, far more often than not you need not worry.

In order to set up a Google Alert, just go to the page (www.google.com/ alerts) and familiarize yourself with the process. It is simple. Use quotation marks around your search term for an "exact" match. Otherwise, you'll get a lot of trash coming at you. Get your feet wet first, set up several alerts, see how the process works and go from there. The same general process can be followed for the other search engines. And you might as well set up a Twitter alert while you are at it. The Twitter site does not offer this service so go to Twilert.com to set it up or another independent site offering this free service. Then you'll know whenever your name shows up in a "tweet" and you can read what was said about you.

Note that you usually set the frequency of receipt of e-mail alerts. Be careful with this ... you want to know about a problem but not be unduly burdened with a lot of interruptions. When you do get an e-mail alert, open it, review the results, and click on the link and investigate the page content. If you do not want the website to know of your visit, you can use an anonymizer service that changes your unique Internet address (known as Internet Protocol or IP address). Even with an anonymizer, don't make the mistake of belie ving that you are omnipotent. The web is not anonymous. No matter how often you hear that it is, remember that it is not. The young man who allegedly hacked Sarah Palin's e-mail account used an anonymizer, but the FBI quickly asked for, and got, the real user's identity.

Once you have set up your alerts on the names you want to monitor, you may decide to keep an eye on your website content to make sure no one is stealing it. Content is often stolen as part of an attack and used in a number of ways. If your site is duplicated (it only takes seconds to do that by copying the publicly available computer code on your web pages) then your business or web properties could be targeted for destruction. A duplicate site often replaces the original site in Google's search results, which means your attacker will be sitting in that nice position you have built up over the years and redirecting traffic. We've even seen instances of someone stealing our client's website content only to publish allegations that our client was the thief of his content. Coupled with a call to action by the real thief, this type of a tactic can lead to attacks of all sorts coming at you.

You should take a unique phrase from your website and add it to the search engine alert service just as you did with your name. And if you find someone has stolen your content, Google has a reporting system for just such situations. Go to its site and submit the notification. And to cover more extensive websites with many pages, you'll find inexpensive commercial solutions online, like Copyscape and Copysentry (www.copyscape.com). that function much like the alert systems of search engines but with some bells and whistles.

The last use I want to mention for the search engine alerts is an early warning hacking alert. Hacking is the most uncommon attack tactic, but is often the most effective because it is the "silent killer" ... you don't know what is happening, but your web properties are being seen by Google unfavorably and your rankings in natural results are dropping into oblivion. Some of Sue's sites recently underwent a hack attack in which a very advanced virus was planted. As litigation lawyers chasing the bad guys, Dozier Internet Law comes under attack often. In one instance, a hacker got into our website and posted child porn and then began claiming our firm was distributing child pornography. In another attack the same day, a Britney Spears video was uploaded into our administrative area of one section of our site, and the website crashed when the hacker activated hundreds of computer servers worldwide to play the video simultaneously. And every year in August, when the hackers of the world go to their "underground" annual convention (DEFCON) in Las Vegas, Dozier Internet Law has a huge spike in hacker intrusion attempts.

We learned our lesson after the first incident and upgraded our security dramatically. But you likely won't have the level of protection necessary to keep a hacker out of your website unless you are operating on a high security e-commerce platform. Now that you understand a bit of the hacking landscape, you can see how dangerous hacks into your site can be. But you can't use the search engine alerts to deal with these. There are commercial products and services for security monitoring available but no easy and free solution.

So, while the risk of hackers attacking you in many ways exists, there is only one type of hacking that can be disclosed by use of the alerts. It's the use of your site to facilitate spam. Think of this as a hijacking for commercial purposes. This type of hack fills two purposes. The first is to hijack your site's reputation and authority and the second is to make a quick buck before the hack is disclosed. But now that you appreciate the risks, you can use the alert to combat the growing problem of hackers who are accessing your site and launching a landing page for spam campaigns and making you look like a spammer. If you don't catch it quickly, you could end up being on spam blacklists, be listed on major spam reporting sites, and have Google disqualify your website from being listed in results. So go into your junk e-mail account, look at the most prominent spam solicitations you are receiving, and set up an alert with your domain name and the spam product or service name. If your website is abcdef.com, and you are getting a lot of spam pushing online casinos, just put in as search alert terms "abcdef.com online ' casino:' (Do not enter the quotation marks when you set this up or you will only get alerts for an exact match of the terms in that order, which means you'll likely never get an alert.) If you are ever hacked, immediately contact your webhost and report it to Google. Have your webhost clear out any links or other goodies the hacker left behind. And make sure the hole the hackers exploited is patched. Google is predicting that this type of situation will be a huge issue beginning in 2009.

Also, Technorati.com has an extensive searchable database ofblog entries that is a handy source for seeing what is being said about you in the blogosphere, and the inventory of content included on Technorati is often more complete than any of the search engines. This resource should be part of your ongoing early warning alert system.

A tool worth mentioning is Backtype.com. You can register for free and get alerts sent to you when comments in blogs show up mentioning your name. So if you put your name in for an alert, you'll know when a comment is made about you, and you can go see all of the comments made by the same person. If you want to keep an eye on a particular person you can simply set up an alert for that name and have a virtual private eye reporting his every move in the blogosphere. Obviously this adds an important tool to your arsenal since you can literally follow your attacker around the web and glean all kinds of good information about what might be coming next.

Finally, don't forget that there are plenty of free online resources that will let you monitor the online world. You can get an alert for every change to webpage content. If you are being attacked on a particular site, or just have suspicions something bad may be coming, you can stay abreast of developments without having to visit the site. Don't keep visiting the site. The website owner often watches his log files and will know when you are visiting and what you are looking at. The last thing you want to do is give the scofflaw a reason to gloat and escalate his attacks.

Stay aware. Understand where your web traffic is coming from. If you have a blog, check out the sites sending traffic to you. This is a great way of identifying the source of referrals. If your attacker is linking to your blog, you'll find out pretty quickly when traffic starts flowing.

I would be remiss if I did not let you know that many of these alert systems will not function at all if the website is not indexed by the search engines. I have seen attack web sites that are virtually underground and the content will never show up on search engines or in alerts. All that is required is the use of a "robots. text" file, which prohibits the little computer programs called robots or spiders from entering the site to record the content. This is rarely an issue since the purpose of attacks is most often to disparage your online reputation by getting Google to search and index the site. But if you run into one of these situations, you don't really need to worry about an early warning system anyway. You are being targeted in a big way. Call your lawyer.

If you are ready to jump in feet first with everything you've got, there are other online solutions for reputation-management monitoring that may be worthy of your consideration. You'll need to decide on the size and power of the early warning system you require. Don't try to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and don't go hunting elephants with a BB gun.

In retrospect, Sue could have set up many of these warning systems and seen the waves of attacks approaching far in advance, which, perhaps, could have enabled her to nip this in the bud with a well-placed telephone call or two. Maybe she could have gone to her important business partners and sources of credibility and referrals and spun the coming attacks to minimize the impact. Aggressive and timely SEO and reputation-management strategies could have been initiated. There are so many possible approaches that could have prevented the escalation of the attacks. Or at least limited their impact. But instead, frozen with self-doubt and fear, she stood on the beach, mesmerized by this odd occurrence, soon to be greeted by an online tsunami that would devastate her.

The Land of a Million Dreams

Product and Service Review Websites


On a recent trip with my boys to Disney World we couldn't resist a day in Magic Kingdom and found ourselves in Tomorrowland. We went through the Carousel of Progress and saw what the future would look like in years to come. Much of it was vaguely familiar. Then we took a boat ride through It's A Small World, and again I had the feeling of deja vu all over again.

As we were heading home that evening we learned that both of those attractions had first appeared at the New York World's Fair in 1964. And memories came flowing back to me about that summer in '64 when my family packed up and took off to "see the future" in New York City. It struck me that only in Disney World could a view of the future be a trip back in time. Unfortunately, unlike our latest victorious sports heroes, who always seem to be "going to Disney World" as they walk off the field, my comments won't be taking you to Disney World any time soon. And we already know that yesterday was not tomorrow. Living in the past will bring nothing but headaches.

Sue comes from the time years ago when the way of checking out a business's reputation was to pull a Dun & Bradstreet credit report, inquire about its Better Business Bureau (BBB) record, and check with licensing agencies and trade references. For individuals, pulling a report from one of the three major credit bureaus coupled with former employer and personal references was the extent of due diligence. For products, one might turn to Consumer Reports.

All of these reference points of contact have a lot of checks and balances in place. A BBB complaint can be dealt with by resolving the dispute and turning it overnight into a positive. A negative item on a credit report can be challenged and unless verified within thirty days it will be removed courtesy of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Consumer Reports relies on scientific analyses and exceptional editorial judgment and discretion. Employers have all kinds of privacy policy restrictions in place today and rarely give a negative review of a former employee. Licensing agencies, often run by the state, were never really very good at responding with up-to-date information and often required an inconvenient personal visit to the most congested area of town. And those trade and personal references supplied by the party you are checking up on? Come on, everyone picks out references they know will offer glowing praise.

Almost all of these aggregators of reputation information were complaint- based and not anonymous. If a business reported a delinquency to the credit bureau, or a license agency undertook an investigation, or the BBB opened up a complaint, these weren't based on their crack team of investigators beating the bushes to find the dissatisfied or disenfranchised. The information was based upon a complaint from a real, live person. You had to really be pissed off to go through the hassle of identifying yourself and filing a complaint, knowing in all likelihood it would never see the light of day or lead toward a resolution.

Today, as Sue has come to realize, things have changed. Complaints are openly solicited, websites offer simple, easy, and free ways to file a very serious complaint, the comments often become highly visible in days, and this will often lead to a dialogue and resolution. And for that, we owe our thanks to the online world. If only it were that simple and ended there. If only people could refrain from misusing these reputation aggregators. But they can't. So scam reporting websites that were conceived as public service sites have become venues used by your competitor or ex-girlfriend to anonymously make you the target of the day. And Sue is still today dealing with the backlash of attacks that started on an industry-specific consumer review site that at one time may have been a consumer protector but turned into a vindictive persecutor.

There are generally three types of scam reporting websites. The first is the type of site Sue has been dealing with, one that seems to have come into existence to expose a specific industry's abuses. These are specialized complaint sites that really are not professional in appearance or function but can offer valuable information. Often they end up being consumed by negative commentary that grows into outright defamatory attacks and more.

The second is the review website, which when legitimate, welcomes both positive and negative commentary. Honest sites might include Epinions.com, Buzzillions.com, or Mpire.com. These are "product review" sites set up and controlled by disinterested third parties and typically offer reasonably objective and accurate assessments, both good and bad. The more nefarious review websites are owned and controlled by the product owner or an affiliate marketer of one of the products under review. Today these types of sites are widely used by the online nutraceutical (unregulated nutritional "pharmaceuticals" that are all the rage today) industry to offer praise of their own products and criticism of competing products. But they are also gaining popularity along many lines as a seemingly undetectable way of illegally attacking competitors.

The third type of site is the open "free-for-all" consumer protection site like the Better Business Bureau on steroids. The motivations for such sites vary. Niche site owners are usually just craving recognition, power, or attention. At least that is my experience. On the other extreme, the true scam reporting websites like Ripoffreport.com, Complaints.com, and Scam. com have business models. In other words, they make money. Some of them make lots of money. And the more complaints they get, the more money they make. As I write this, Scam. com and Complaints. com are making money through the Google AdSense program. They get paid every time someone clicks on an advertisement. So, if your business is being attacked, and someone is searching for you, the "scam" label could very well show up on the first page of results. Of course the result will be clicked on, and lead to a page tearing into your business. But that is not the worst of it. At the top and along the side of the attack commentary are advertisements. FOR YOUR COMPETITORS!

Driving the profitability of these sites is the new process of online search through which reputation information is gathered. You own a small business, and you want to open a bank account. If your small business is checked out for creditworthiness and you have a couple of delinquencies and an unpaid invoice and big loans on everything, the bank may put in certain restrictions to assure you are fiscally responsible with them. If you are applying for a mortgage, you'll get one, just on more expensive terms. At least that was the way things used to be until the mortgage meltdown. Now imagine that bank and mortgage company checking you out online, and seeing false claims that you are a convicted swindler, use a bunch of aliases, beat your wife, and run a "scam" business that is a front for the mob. All completely fabricated. But that doesn't matter because you won't have a chance of getting a loan or opening a bank account.

But things get worse. Because the scam reporting and dishonest review websites are megamachines soliciting complaints across the web, they are aggregating defamatory attacks at one location and creating a report card featuring all failing grades. Just as problematic, though, is the fact that attacks carried out through these sites are higher proftle and more inclined to reach the top of Google's results because the sites themselves are seen by Google as highly authoritative. It's the credit bureau model all over again, aggregating reputation information at one source, but the information at the scam reporting and scam review site is often a bunch of incorrect, false, malicious charges being submitted anonymously from all over the world, rather than relatively reliable and accurate data flowing from identified businesses governed by a very strict federal law. And how does the granddaddy of them all, Ripoff report.com, generate income? It offers to help a business manage the false attacks on its website for a very hefty monthly fee.

That's the fundamental problem with things today. We have the Fair Credit Reporting Act and business policies and practices in place to make sure traditional reputation resources, like the three credit bureaus and credit scoring providers, contain or use only reliable and accurate information. Yet at the same time the most impactful and least reliable source of information about you or your business is governed by no laws or societal norms or mores to protect you. In fact, just the opposite is true. Our laws discourage corrections since Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) motivates many sites to simply take the safe route to complete immunity from liability and follow a "no edit" practice. If the content is posted, many sites won't touch it at all, except in situations that implicate child pornography or other clearly criminal activity. As I have said before, this law alone is responsible for most of the published defamation online today because it strips the power to self-regulate and self-police from the website owner. Try to reconcile this approach with the legislative mandates by which the credit bureaus must operate. You can't.

My opinion is that these scam review sites have legal problems, particularly in the trademark infringement arena. But to be fair, the public-interest groups and free-speech expansionists, together with other like-minded and very vocal law professors who reside in the ivory towers of Berkeley and Harvard and that place called self-delusion, believe these scam reporting websites are simply exercises of free speech and fair use rights. The courts haven't gotten around to dealing with this in a detailed and informed way yet. But they will. And my prediction will be that the forces defending Section 230 of the CDA will one day regret that, when given the opportunity, they did not seek a balanced and fair solution. I am reminded of the judge who looked at my opponent over twenty years ago and proclaimed that "[Y]ou live by the sword, you die by the sword" as he found in my client's favor.

If you ever see your name show up on a Google result with one of these scam reporting sites as the source, or you get an alert and you realize these sites are carrying the attack, be very careful. Keep in mind that some are becoming very well camouflaged as they are "outed" and their racket becomes known. But more and more competitors are launching "review sites" that are biased and disparage competing products. We have even found independent sites whose advertisers never seem to get the negative comments. But the non-advertisers get nailed constantly. Basically the source of attacks on your products, services, family, business, and organization can come from so many places that are havens for breeding scofflaw attacks that it is becoming really hard to figure out. You need to be careful because these can be very powerful sites. Whatever your problem is can become much worse overnight, and addressing problems coming from attacks on scam reporting or review websites requires a good deal of finesse and experienced judgment to manage this high-risk environment.

Yes, we live in a new time. It's now a small world, to be sure. And we are all on the rapidly evolving carousel of progress. Learn to adapt to the new world and embrace the nuances of the online business world.

In the meantime, take a look at the Pinocchian ways of these "public interest" groups protecting the scoundrels that attack, rob, and steal. They live in fantasyland, work in yesterdayland, and vacation in wonderland. They offer Mickey Mouse musings, Daffy Duck diatribes, and Goofy grousings in Chicken Little legal briefs, all with the flair and pirate aplomb of a Jack Sparrow. I doubt if they are on the way to Disney World either ... but they should be ... it's the land of a million dreams.

All the News That's Fit to Print

Communications Indecency Act


How could this be happening? Why are these problems unique to the online world? We've had newspapers and magazines around for years. It makes no sense. Those are some of the questions going through Sue's mind as she sees site after site willingly host and support the outright lies aimed at her. Ironically, in a rush to protect ISPs, Congress brought it on itself.

Laws come from a lot of different places. Here in the United States, your local city counsel may pass a law. Or your state's legislature can act. As the federal executive branch likes to point out, Congress proposes laws. And the President disposes of them. Many come from our English ancestors, and they are part of a body of laws called "common law." These are laws based upon common sense. I guess Congress's laws might be viewed in history as "uncommon nonsense:' I'm not sure about that, but for our purposes, it applies. Here's why.

Centuries ago, when scriveners would still turn a simple sentence into an absurdly long soliloquy (they were paid by the word) everyone understood that falsehoods could get you in trouble. The English decided that a publisher of such lies would be liable for damages. The fellow passing out those pamphlets on the corner can't claim he just found them and did not know the author and therefore escape responsibility. Newspapers and magazines that later evolved would, in fact, have a legal obligation to get their facts straight. This made perfect sense. In fact, it became our law in the United States. "Publisher liability," which is the doctrine establishing legal responsibility by a publisher for the contents of a book, magazine, or newspaper, keeps our reporters, editors, and publishers honest. And that law certainly contributed to the public perception that "if it is in the newspaper it must be true."

But along came 1996, the very infancy of the commercialization of the Internet. In the early days, the web was seen primarily as a more effective distribution system. It was easier to shop, easier to research, and you could even send e-mail. It was also the year credit card security became of age and ecommerce platforms began safely processing credit cards. I recall this as an evolutionary moment since my venture-backed e-commerce business I had begun in 1994 could now offer our major financial clients like American Express, Citicorp, and Sears a more robust transaction processing solution. But securely moving financial data over the web was still just a new way of distributing money from customers to merchants and banks. Today, a primary value of the web is the ability to build neighborhoods and communities and interact socially. So by the turn of the century, blogs were evolving, and it wouldn't be long before social networks and video sites boomed as the era of "user-generated content" exploded. Soon, anyone who had anything to say could say it. And in less than ten years the entire landscape of the web had changed from a business-based platform driven by dis-intermediation (taking out the middle man in a transaction) and faster and easier information-distribution systems to a social phenomenon that has changed life as we live it.

In 1995, a court decided that Prodigy, a sort of value-added and private ISP, may have "publisher liability" for statements carried on its online service. So Congress intervened and passed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because it did seem fundamentally unfair to apply a doctrine of responsibility to a technology company that had no role in the content. You wouldn't sue the phone company for what happened in a private telephone conversation, it was argued, and at the time it may have made sense to pass Section 230. The goal was to make sure this new thing called the Internet could thrive and grow without undue interference. This was a time when domain names were pretty darn expensive, websites were relatively costly, Google wasn't around, and social networks and blogs were a mere glimmer in someone's eye. So as Congress surveyed the landscape, the law may have made a lot of sense given the landscape of that day.

Little did they know or understand what was to come: free websites, two-dollar domain names, and platforms ready-made for every Larry, Curly, and Moe to launch attacks. You can have your own blog for free today in minutes. And Google came along and nearly cornered the market for online searches. Needless to say, the landscape has changed dramatically. And yet the same law exists in its original form.

More than a dozen years later there remains a law in place that, as we have discussed, dissuades website owners from self-policing and editing away horrible lies and attacks. In other words, the law put into place to protect service providers actually promotes defamation and meaningfully discourages self-regulation and self-policing of the web by the very websites used by scofflaws to carry out their attacks.

Here's a quick example. Someone falsely says you are a thief and a wife beater on a forum. You find out about this and send an e-mail to the website owner saying that this guy on your forum is posting outrageous and false lies. If the website pulls it down, and the editing is determined by a court to have materially changed the meaning of the content, then the website owner can be sued. At the least, editing opens up a door for expensive litigation, the last thing a small website owner would want or be able to afford. So, what do you think happens? Defamatory statements rarely get removed from the web by the website owner, even when the desire to do so exists. As we saw earlier, the rule of unintended consequences rears its ugly head.

The body of law dealing with Section 230 is evolving. Judges are disagreeing as to the interpretations of "editing" and when immunity should be awarded. Lawyers debate the issues and disagree. How can we expect a small business person running a website to risk losing everything by trying to navigate through this minefield?

There are ways to solve this problem and actually empower and allow websites, search engines, ISPs, forums, blogs, and the like to self-police and self-regulate without fear of being responsible for something they do not control. Section 230 should be amended so it works to protect legitimate business interests and empowers the web to self-police. Sue must be wondering why her freedom to speak is under direct attack, her freedom to avoid outrageously false attacks on her reputation is being eroded, and her freedom to maintain her reputation and honor as a true measure of the quality of her work is being dismantled. What has happened to the concept of the sanctity of one's reputation? Have we devolved back into the days in which the only way to save your name is a virtual duel? A duel with an interesting choice of weapons: a flame thrower for the attacker, and a pen knife for the attacked?

As the attacks on Sue escalate, there becomes an imbalance between the property and privacy rights of an individual and the rights of the public to know. Rule by the masses and mobs are beginning to control the reputation and honor of Sue. The intellectual justification for an overly protective view of free speech-that truth will win out in an unfiltered marketplace of ideas and therefore free speech must be protected over individual rights-is being revealed as more of a nightmare than an aspirational dream. And in the light of day, the very notion should become a distant figment of our imagination as Sue's right to privacy is invaded. All the news that's fit to print?

Hardly.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:32 pm

DIG A MOAT OR A GRAVE

In order for the next part of my saga to make sense (as if ANY of it makes sense), I need to expand upon something I brought up in the first chapter: how my daughter was abused in a program for at-risk teens, which I removed her from, and subsequently established PURE as a resource for families dealing with this sensitive issue.

I put our story on PURE's website. A cautionary tale to be sure, and all of it was proven to be true. The owners of the very large and powerful Utah-based corporation that oversaw the program my daughter had attended took exception to me taking our experience public. Ironically, I was the one being accused of defamation and they decided to sue me. They lost; I won. They appealed; I won again.

I expand on all this in my book Wits End, but don't want to go into any real detail here, except for a few key overlapping issues that directly bear on this story.

First, remember when Clark initially contacted me for help in removing her sons from the Costa Rica program, and I then gave her Steve's contact information for potential assistance? The program her sons were in was owned by the same corporation that ran yet another program, the one I had removed my daughter from. This probably had something to do with the empathy I had when Clark called me up in distress.

Although she repeatedly claimed her family had suffered dramatically from the program she removed her sons from, she testified under oath that she asked the corporation's lawyers for $30,000 to let them access her computer, which supposedly contained correspondence that would be damaging to me. She further testified that she took $12,500 for allowing the lawyers to borrow said computer, which they flew from Utah to Louisiana to personally pick it up.

Nothing damaging surfaced to incriminate me, by the way, but this exchange of money for information transpired in late 2003. The actual details of amounts and arrangements weren't immediately known to me, but Clark made no attempt to hide the exchange, going so far as to post this on Smith's website that December:

"Somewhere in another thread I told ya'll would give [redacted] my e-mails. So why you're now surprised I did, I don't understand. I could have said no and had them subpoenaed or I could attempt to negotiate with them and have them pay for them. After all, I incurred a lot of expense removing my boys from a program that I did not want them in. I chose the latter. If you have a problem with that ... well, it's your problem."


Now the third and last point that plays into this unfolding Twilight Zone scene is that I had to give a deposition in the case. A very long deposition that weighed in at over 600 pages. And in those pages I was asked about the parents I worked with, their names, and what facilities their teens went to, descriptions of allegations of abuse suf- fered by children in various programs, and other privileged information concerning many families that I would never reveal to an outside source but was compelled to disclose. There was, however, a protective order signed by the federal district court judge mandating that " ... any names or organizations disclosed in Sue Scheff's deposition, or in future depositions, are subject to this protective order and may not be disclosed or used outside this litigation."

In addition to this professional probing, I was asked some deeply personal questions, which I answered. Many of them revolved around my children, including my daughter's emotional struggles, my son's learning disability, and much, much more. There were extended family inquiries, which I answered, regarding my father, my mother, even my cousin, their addresses, occupations, and financial situations. Details about my marriage, my divorce, personal finances, and work history were thoroughly questioned -- and answered. And then such basics as my home address, unlisted phone number, and Social Security number were committed to deposition print.

The final result was far more detailed and graphic than this Cliffs-Notes version might suggest, basically exposing every particle of my personal life in stark black-and-white. It left me feeling extremely vulnerable, like some specimen being examined under a microscope and then dissected in one of those biology classes where the frog gets pithed.

Well, guess what just happened to show up in Clark's mailbox, shortly after she turned her computer over to the corporation's lawyers so they might examine the correspondence she and I had earlier exchanged? And what an inconvenient truth that the judge had signed off on a protective order to legally shield innocent families and their children from public exposure, their identities in my deposition to be revealed ONLY in this litigation. Huh. That's interesting. There were only two law firms litigating the case last I'd checked, and it's sure hard to imagine my own attorney finagling a copy of my deposition into Clark's possession.

Still, as Clark would later testify, she had no idea who had sent her my deposition; it simply showed up in her mailbox without a return address.

What magic! Amazing! Lance Burton, David Copperfield: move over.

So, do you care to hazard a guess as to what comes next?

Ah, there's nothing quite like having selected portions of one's deposition posted on an open Internet forum. Not all of the best juicy bits, mind you -- at least, not yet -- but definitely some private information that was not meant for public consumption. To say I was horrified would be an understatement. Especially when a flurry of posts between Smith and Clark made it clear they intended to post my entire deposition on the website. There was just one little impediment they were trying to work out: Smith as the website administrator had to make enough space on the web server, and since the deposition was hard copy and not electronically available as a download, some manual labor was going to be involved to scan each and every page by hand.

I won't bore you with the specific posts revealing their intentions. What I will do is share Clark's written musings:

"I think all of this information along with the court records I have should be sent to all of the media. What do you think (Smith)? I think if the media knew who has been behind a lot of the chain yanking they would have a better understanding of what is going on."


The media? She wants to send my deposition to the media? I have highly sensitive information about the parents I've worked with and their children in there -- each of their names protected by a court order -- and now she wants to expose these innocent people and their personal pain to any and all takers? In my testimony there were even details regarding my dealings with a celebrity who had a son in a program. Fodder for the tabloids perhaps?

That Clark and company apparently had no hesitation in exposing these families to get back at me was ... shocking, appalling. And what about my family? Even my daughter's confidential medical information was a subject of discussion in this deposition, and to think the world at large would be privy to such intimate details about my child made my blood boil.

Go after me, and that's one thing. Go after my child, and get ready to take me on. Having my Social Security number publicly posted so I could deal with all kinds of potential identity theft paled in comparison to my daughter, my son -- and all those sons and daughters belonging to someone else -- being subjected to the scrutiny of a mass audience composed of the curious, the happenstance viewer, parents, professionals, and no telling who else, with no doubt a few perverts thrown in.

With this single threat the gloves came off. To put it mildly, the famous line from the movie Network says it all: I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I have no idea what kind of chain yanking Clark was referring to, but she crossed a line by involving the children, and that's a place that she never should have gone.

Finally, finally, goaded into action -- it was just a few days before Christmas -- I got busy and fast. I notified my Utah attorney, who immediately served a cease-and-desist letter as well as a motion for a preliminary injunction and a motion to seal court records. As the judge began to understand what was happening to me, he issued these rulings in his order:

"The court has made clear to counsel that its primary concern was the prevention of the public disclosure of the names of children who have been placed in the various programs subject to this litigation. The names of children are not to be disclosed in public court proceedings.

No other information about Ms. Scheff shall be disclosed in public pleadings.

The parties may not disclose outside of this litigation confidential financial information or confidential trade secrets learned during discovery.

To minimize the risk of improper disclosure of information, all future depositions in this case shall be attorneys only. Any depositions taken before this order may only be used by the attorneys and their clients only. Any depositions posted on websites or made available to the public must be removed."


Thank you, Judge Cassell.

Although my attorney's letter and motion put Clark and Smith on notice even before the judge could issue his order, enough rumblings of disgruntlement on the website let me know that I might have won this battle but they had no intentions of losing the war on me and PURE.

Since PURE is based in Florida, my wonderful attorney in Utah advised me to get representation in my home state. I still had some supporters and professional colleagues who had remained loyal that I could call on for advice. One of them gave me the name of a lawyer who didn't specialize in Internet law (I didn't even know there was such a thing), but I was told he was damn good.

I had the number. It was the day before Christmas Eve, 2003, and my hands were still shaking from equal measures of rage and desperation as I hit the keypad. A pleasant voice answered. "Law offices of David Pollack, may I help you?"

"Yes. My name is Sue Scheff. I need to speak to Mr. Pollack immediately."

Information Yearns to Be Free

Protecting Evidence in Litigation


It's a sign of the times. While our legal system has rules preventing the destruction or spoiling (spoliation) of evidence, as well as rules that under certain circumstances can prevent the public disclosure of information through a court's decision to close a file to the public ("sealing" of the case), we have yet to effectively implement rules that protect evidence from public distribution absent exceptional circumstances. The reticence of the courts to limit the free flow of information and access to public trials is grounded in our Constitution. But in this new day and age, the damage done by publicizing certain evidence can outweigh the harm caused by misconduct that brought about the lawsuit in the first place. There is a struggle, by now a common one, between the "information yearns to be free" crowd and everyone else who values their right to privacy. Yes, it is a continuing theme.

You must understand what can become public in a lawsuit if you are considering legal action. Otherwise, embarrassing or damaging information can make it into the public arena much more easily today than in the past, thanks to the Internet. And the likelihood of it getting online is much greater today since your adversaries often understand the harm they can inflict on you. As a general rule, almost no private information is off-limits in discovery, which is the phase in which both sides discover the evidence of the case by using written inquiries, obtaining documents, and asking questions in depositions. How, then, do we protect private information when it cannot be controlled? Courts are hesitant to "seal" a file completely. I've been involved in fewer than six cases in which the entire case was sealed. Assume your case will not be sealed, and even if it is at the time of filing, expect it to be unsealed quickly as the case moves forward.

But the court can issue "protective orders" requiring that the public not have access to certain information. Usually this is worked out in advance by the lawyers with a detailed multitiered protective order. Sue would have been much better off addressing this issue earlier in the litigation. The failure to do so is one big reason why she finds herself faced with the threat that very private information about her, her family, her clients, and others will be published on the web for all to see in perpetuity. Note that the judge ordered everything already posted on the web to be removed. Does anyone think that can really effectively happen? No. There is little chance of truly taking back information that finds its way online. So the issue needs to be addressed proactively up front when in litigation. This means that in particularly sensitive legal cases, requests can be made to the judge to seal all, or part, of a case to avoid public disclosure. But before any information is exchanged with the other side, either through initial disclosures mandated by court rules to start the case off or the beginning of the discovery phase, your lawyer must evaluate what subjects and evidence and information should be protected and propose the entry of a "protective order" that will limit distribution appropriately to only those who need to know and are involved in the case.

What kind of information can come out in a deposition? Everything. Your medical condition, your Social Security number, the amount of your bank balances, and on and on. Depositions are a veritable treasure trove for identity thieves and those who wish to do harm to your reputation and get you sued by others. Think about it. In the past, secrets and confidences would be leaked to friends or maybe the local newspaper. But today your bank account and Social Security numbers can end up on a foreign website used as a haven and clearinghouse by thieves. The passwords you had to give up in the deposition can be placed on a hacker community website. Your photo, age, marital status, and address can be shared with sexual predators on forums. All of this in seconds. So, the laws must change, the judges must appreciate the risks involved, and the lawyers need to be much more careful when litigating cases in court.

That's another strong reason why our privacy laws need to be re-energized. I'll be discussing that shortly. Funny how the courts insist upon maintaining "access to the courts" and resist protecting private information with no apparent appreciation for the fact that many people avoid accessing the courts out of fear of losing their privacy.

Information yearns to be free? Congress doesn't think so. There is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) to protect medical records and the Fair Credit Reporting Act to protect financial information, and all kinds of information and data protection laws on the books and in the works. Let's apply just a little bit of that level of concern to protecting some of the most damaging information that is presented as evidence in cases.

If You Are Going to San Francisco

Privacy Laws


Let's go back in time. In 1888, Eastman patented the Kodak roll-film camera. In 1890, a Harvard Law Review article called for the establishment and legal protection of individual rights to privacy. Coincidence? I think not. Laws evolve in relation to historical trends and events. At least they used to. In 1890, it seemed that the traditional notions of the right to be left alone were at risk by the advance of technology. Over the following sixty years the right to privacy grew right alongside the new media invasion: first the moving motion picture, then talkies, followed by radio and television. But by the 1960s, a funny thing was happening. The counterculture revolution was beginning to emerge. Free love, free drugs, and free speech were becoming the bedrock of a new generation. Individual privacy rights began to give way in popularity to the concept of free everything, including the expansion of free speech.

By the 1990s, the intrusion of solitude laws protecting against unwanted invasions of one's private quarters were in disfavor. The laws against the public disclosure of truthful, but private, facts were under attack. Protections against the publication of true facts that place a person in a false light were waning. Only commercial appropriation claims seemed to remain viable. These changes were a result of a famous law professor who wrote that privacy protections were no longer needed.

We are now fifteen years into the commercialization of the Internet. And it's hard to see any movement yet toward greater protections of individual privacy. This is surprising when one compares the personal intrusions of the camera to the personal intrusions visited upon each of us by the Web. It's hard to say why law professors aren't more vocal in calling for greater privacy protections. One theory holds that the professors are too worried about being attacked online to speak their mind. I have to concede that the free-speechers out there have a long and nasty history of attacking the speech of those with whom they disagree. Being held up on the web to scorn, ridicule, satire, sarcasm, and vicious defamatory attacks is probably not the road to tenure, and is certainly not appealing to the profs who have to go in and face their constituents each morning in class.

The foundation of the web was built on the concept of a free and open environment, and since commercialization of the Internet took off in the San Francisco area (forever identified by Haight-Ashbury, the "summer of love," and flowers in your hair), it makes sense that the foundations and norms and mores of the web evolved around a commitment to free speech -- a concept that has been passed down through the generations. Privacy rights never had a chance in this new medium.

But change is coming. You see, one of my favorite cities is San Francisco. It's the Key West and Provincetown of the West Coast times ten. Open minds are everywhere in the San Fran area. And I wouldn't be surprised if it leads the way in reforming privacy laws so that balanced protections of personal rights and public participation and free speech can coexist. When that happens, the rest of the nation will follow.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:36 pm

MONKEYS DON'T FLY

"Cast wishful thinking and false assumptions aside. Even the Scarecrow was smart enough to fight."

I wish I had been clever enough to think that up but John gets all the credit. It's something he told me recently when we were discussing at what point I had been pushed so far into a corner that I had no choice but to fight back.

The last week of December in 2003 is one I'll never forget, and no amount of wishful thinking can change the unfolding events that would soon come to change my life in some profound and disturbing ways.

The "complaint and demand for jury trial" was filed against Clark on December 31st. The same day I learned about the Broward County PTA posting. Guess we both had a Happy New Year's Eve. To the PTA's credit, as soon as I alerted them to the situation, they immediately removed the post.

While my attorney David Pollack moved aggressively forward, I vacated my office. Something had to go with the cost of litigating this case, and the office outside my home was a casualty of that expense. Not that it was all that hard to give up since I was having increasing difficulty dealing with the emotional repercussions, and home felt like a safe haven where I wouldn't have to show my face in public.

Over the next two and a half years, there was a lot to hide my face in embarrassment about. Enough that I was never able to bring myself to share any of this with my parents, siblings, or anyone else who wasn't directly involved with the whole sordid affair.

How sordid? There came a point that if you did a Google search on "Sue Scheff," one of the top three results had a link to "Sue Scheff's Red Panties." And if you clicked onto the link, just guess where it took the viewer? You got it: Smith's website.

Due to the graphic nature of the following posts, those with more delicate sensibilities are advised to skip to the next page.

From Anonymous: "Susan, I would endure [redacted] to be able to put my face in your pu**y for 10 minutes, especially if you were wearing some red panties!"

Anonymous #2 responds: "I want to hear about her panties, damn it!!"

Anonymous #3 chimes in: "Susan, I will mail you $50 for a pair of red panties worn by YOU and UNWASHED. PLEASE don't deny me this pleasure .... "

Anonymous #4: "Susan Scheff's red panties must be made of silky-smooth SATIN and smell LOVELY after she wears them all day!"

Anonymous #5: "Susan, I'm thinking LONG and HARD about this before I say it: I'll bet my left testicle that you are wearing RED PANTIES RIGHT NOW!!!!"

Anonymous #6: "Oh, it works for ME!! Ooooooohhhhhh, yeeeeaahhhh!!!! GodDAMN I'm gonna have to go for about 15 minutes ... that oughta do it. ... bb ltr .... "


And this was in the top three results of a Google search for my name.

Can anyone, anyone, tell me when it became permissible in our society to spew pornographic vomit all over a woman -- or a man for that matter -- while hiding behind the veil of anonymity and the perverse twisting of our precious First Amendment rights?

I think the depravity of these posts speak for themselves. Four days after the original postings, Smith responded with this abbreviated posting of her own:

"Ok, folks. In case anyone is wondering what happened to the red panties posts, here's the story.

Sue was not at all amused w/those posts ... However, it really isn't up to me to decide what is and is not proper conduct or legitimate communication around here. But I have good reason to believe that she was so upset by this that she was willing to litigate. So then I figured out who was posting those messages and asked whether or not (he/they) wanted me to delete them. (He/they) did, and so they're gone ....

For future reference, let me reiterate and clarify my policy on controlling the content here. I try not to put myself in the middle if at all possible, except by way of participation in public discussion. Of course I'm responsible for what I write.

If it's an anon post and the author wants it changed or deleted, I'll do that. Done it many times. But it really is up to the author whether or not the content in question is worth fighting for."


Really? Does that mean the posts would remain on Smith's website to this day if the anon poster(s) she was able to trace had decided their sexually graphic musings specifically targeted at me were worth fighting for? And since they were gracious enough to delete their naughty bits of fun, I suppose I'm expected to pretend it never happened in the first place, any feelings of violation gone as quick as the "click" of a mouse.

"There's no place like home . ... " Click, click. "There's no place like home . ... "

Click. Click. With each "click" of a computer mouse to search for my name on Google, complete paranoia claimed squatter's rights in my soul and in my psyche. The accumulated damage went deep. "There's no place like home . ... " Home was a safe house I took refuge in and increasingly did not want to leave. As long as I stayed away from the Internet search engines, I was safe within the cosseting walls of my home. The same residence I had to mortgage in order to keep fighting for what little was left of the tattered reputation attached to my name -- a name that came to serve up over two pages of initial Google results, in the form of topic headings that linked directly to Smith's website.

And how could something like this happen, you might wonder? The posters had created forum after forum after forum with such enticing eye-catchers as "Sue Scheff Lies" and "PURE Bullshit."

And what about PURE over the course of nearly three years in cyberhell? My beautiful baby took a real beating but managed to limp along despite what had ballooned into a classic case of agoraphobia. When I made myself leave the house, I would no longer make eye contact with anyone at the grocery store. I still had to eat, even though I had little appetite, and between my weight loss and inability to sleep, I could hardly recognize myself in the mirror. Co to a restaurant and meet some friends for dinner or happy hour? I had become so reclusive that most of my friends no longer bothered to ask, and since even ordering a latte at Starbucks was a challenge, a larger venue was out of the question. I didn't want to meet anyone new for fear they would ask me my name or want to know where I worked, then decide to do a casual Google search just out of curiosity.

Despite all the trash piled on top of my name and PURE's website, some families in need still managed to find us. Fortunately I had an associate who would return phone calls because I had shut down to the point that I had difficulty speaking to family members, and that included my own. As for the personal meetings I had once so loved to have with parents, those were a thing of the past. So were speaking engagements, community workshops, interfacing with school counselors -- anything that involved outside verbal or physical contact required more internal stamina than I was able to summon.

I had always been an outgoing people person and never imagined I could be reduced to such a shell of my former self. I knew I needed some kind of therapy to work through this awful situation that was eating me alive. And while I did speak privately with my educational psychologist colleague, who would later testify on my behalf, I could not bring myself to act on his advice to seek the necessary help that I desperately needed. Why? Because I was afraid that somehow a visit to a psychologist or psychiatrist would leak out and become public knowledge on the Internet. I know how ridiculous that must sound, but my paranoia had reached a point that I felt like Dorothy without Kansas or Oz in sight, only flying wild monkeys swooping down and landing all around me, screeching and tearing at my hair, any which way I turned.

And weren't they? After all, even if I managed to escape the paranoia and agoraphobia, I could slide straight into schizophrenia since I had apparently adopted an evil twin who had assumed my identity online.

'There's no place like home .... "Click, click. 'There's no place like home .... "

Home, unfortunately, offered no protection from my alter ego who appeared as a "guest" on a far too familiar website, and, in suitably large letters, posted this request:

"My dearest (Smith),

I do not understand. I have asked you for my very own message peg board on your website but you do not respond to my pleas. I had to make my request on the [redacted] forum. Humiliating! Why won't you have a forum for:

PURE and ME, Sue Scheff?

Why Smith? I beg you. Why all others but none for ME?

I'm wondering if maybe you could start a forum all about me, yes ME, ME AND ME, and more ME. Oh, and please include my bestest friend [redacted].

I wove woo, Smith.

-- Sue Scheff

P.S. Oh yeah, please include my PURE as a dove sign because I'm PURE and innocent in RED!"


An open call was then extended to the completely open-to-the-public forum:

LET'S TAKE A VOTE FOR A FORUM FOR ONLY SUE SCHEFF AND PURE AS A DOVE ....


And as expected, this was a very popular idea. Per one respondent:

"I vote 'yes' for a dedicated forum for Sue Scheff and PURE. Good idea. Why not? She is asking and I say go for it. Great idea, Sue!"


The "bestest friend" whose name I redacted was also singled out for a cyberlynching because of her association with me. I won't heap more potential spitting upon her than she's already endured by publicly exposing her identity.

As for my plea being granted for a personal bulletin board and forum dedicated to ME, ME, and ME, the generosity of the givers allowed me to also speak for "myself" in the general forum -- although that schizophrenia thing kept cropping up since I went from posting as "Sue Scheff," to "Lawsuit Sue," to "Not Sue Scheff" (please note, even "Not Sue Scheff" responded on the forum as if she were, indeed, still me).

Let's see ... so many posts in my various names on this forum, it's really hard to pick just one since my username information on the site reveals "I" was posting an average of 11.98 messages per day. Okay, eeny, meeny, miny, moe! Here's a couple that'll do for giggles and grins:

From Anonymous: "SUE, SUE, SUE ... what programs do you refer to and what is the criteria they have to meet to be deemed worthy of PURE?"

From Lawsuit Sue, A regular around here: "If you people continue to misrepresent my business practices, I hope you are prepared for expensive and unpleasant litigation. I am one of the good people in all of this. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT ALL YOU REMEMBER THAT! And once again, thank you for your interest in PURE."

From Anonymous: "Sue, you are not one of the good ones ... you are one of the bad ones in my opinion. Stupid bitch."

From Not Susan Scheff, familiar face: "I believe I explained in one of my prior posts what I mean by reasonable precautions. If you did not understand then ... GIVE ME A BREAK! It is obvious that your brain operates at a slower pace than a turtle moves around! I am one of the good people in all of this." (Posted from Florida)


After this had gone on awhile and "I" had assumed several Sue Scheff identities, Smith intervened with this Pontius Pilate hands-off "warning":

"In case there was any doubt at all, I changed the name of user 'Susan Scheff' to 'NOT Susan Scheff' pending contact with the prankster who's been writing under that name. I did think it was funny as hell there for a while, but I had no idea that anyone would actually believe that it was really Susan Scheff writing that stuff! Satire, folks, satire!

Now, as to some of the other content here regarding Susan: I stand by my terms of use and usual policy. I'm not responsible, legally or ethically, for what you folks decide to write. And I'm in no hurry to assist anyone who may get bent out of shape over it. But, now this is important, I can be legally compelled to cooperate w/discovery if some litigious person decides they want to sue you for it!"


So yet again, Smith has washed her hands as website administrator while high-fiving "the prankster" and turning a blind eye to yet another "prank" in full view of anyone visiting her website: an e-mail address "I" was making available along with "my" posts. Seems one of my alter egos decided to set up an e-mail account in the name of Sue Scheff and respond in my name to whoever "would actually believe that it was really Susan Scheff."

As John so eloquently put it, "Cast wishful thinking and false assumptions aside. Even the Scarecrow was smart enough to fight."

But that didn't stop me from wishful thinking. If only I knew what I ever did to incur Clark's wrath, which spread like a cancer to eager followers who had never met me and really knew nothing about me at all. If only I could make the last three years disappear as if they had never happened. If only I had more than a Calgon bath to take me away. Like maybe a pair of ruby slippers?

"There's no place like home .... " Click, click. "There's no place like home .... "

The Best Defense Is Offense?

Lawsuit Considerations


Every situation is different. Sue chose a lawsuit as the centerpiece of her counterattack. In football games we hear the commentators point out that the best defense is a strong offense. But throwing deep passes is the most aggressive counterattack and how many interceptions and quarterback sacks do we see when an attack not only goes airborne, but deep? A lot. High risk. High reward. Dealing with online attacks is no different.

A lawsuit carries with it serious risks. The initial publicity could spur on a "mobosphere" attack by those who take offense to anyone putting in play the notion that "information yearns to be free:' There could be attempts to smother the plaintiff into submission by swarming together and attacking like African honey bees. A high profile "consumer-rights" group could jump in to offer a free legal defense to the attacker, and, at the same time, intentionally motivate its constituents to undertake attacks. It's a common occurrence. You, and your family, could be placed in a position of compromise with false attacks emanating from the hinterlands allover the world. Your lawyer could be targeted, and his reputation and his law firm's reputation could be attacked. I've seen many a lawyer, shell-shocked from an initial wave of negative commentary and false attacks, run from a case as quickly as he can. Now you are out in the cold, and a lot worse off.

So, what Sue did took courage. And I've just painted for you the reason why there is a paucity of lawsuits over online defamation. One reason, as we've seen, is the "Streisand Effect:' Interesting, isn't it, that those believing so firmly in free speech and the concept of information flowing without bounds are so ready to attack the speech of those who object? The netizens of the mobosphere, their supporters and their followers, are all for free speech. Until, of course, they don't agree with it. And trust me when I tell you that they don't like any of their compatriots to be sued, no matter the egregious nature of the misconduct.

But a lawsuit isn't the only way to aggressively and openly fight back. Inventors, for instance, seem to often be at the center of online disputes. Once in a while, a valuable innovation comes along and an inventor reaps great financial rewards, but more often than not the inventor's only reward is the gratitude of, and attribution from, others. Steal an invention from an inventor, claim it as your own, and you are asking for trouble.

So it was when an inventor asked me for help. An online businessman was using his "baby" and claiming it as his own. There was a lot of intellectual capital tied up in the inventor's work, and he was naturally upset. And thus we see another form of counterattack, one of the most successful I have ever witnessed. This scofflaw didn't know the first thing about reputation management. He had left himself exposed. He was regaling in a spike in business, but wearing a birthday suit fit for a king, if you get my drift. He had left himself naked. The first page results on Google weren't under his control. This is a prime example of how the effect of not proactively managing your online reputation comes into play. Results that Google considered to be of importance and highly authoritative when this individual's name was searched did not exist. So it wasn't hard to jump over the results populating prime organic or natural search positions (search results generated by Google's algorithm and not "sponsored" or paid results). This was an invitation for intervention through counterinsurgency. The lesson you can learn is that if you don't build up your own online reputation by using my recommended techniques, you are asking for trouble, and when it comes knocking you'll have no defense except an open door with a welcome mat.

Mr. Inventor spent a couple of hours videotaping messages, very credible and sincere ones at that, explaining that this company had stolen his invention. He then posted the videos and used some optimization techniques on YouTube targeting the thieving company's name. The next day, both videos were on the first page of Google results. Needless to say, the begging began immediately, and didn't end until the true inventor had a nice licensing deal in place. He took the snap, avoided a blitzing linebacker, rolled out to his right, and threw a bomb across his body to the tight end streaking down the left hash mark for a ninety-nine-yard touchdown! Sweet.

Another masterful counterpunch came from a surgeon. He was a doctor's doctor. You know, the kind of doc that other doctors go to. It's the highest compliment, and he was in high regard allover the world. Not a blemish on his record; pretty remarkable given the highly emotional nature of his type of surgery patients. Let's set the stage: As retirement approaches, one naturally starts to think about your legacy. What will I be remembered for? Will my children, and their children, be proud of my contributions to society? And so it goes. As the day nears for retirement the phone rings at the office. And it's the nightmare of all nightmares. The voice on the other line explains that a television network is doing an expose on surgeon butchers and they would like to include him for a "botched" surgery on a former patient. Immediately he envisions his spotless career record being overwhelmed by the online commentary and follow-on false attacks that are sure to follow such an expose.

We were brought onto the crisis management team immediately. Of course, he couldn't comment on the allegations because of federal laws prohibiting the release of a patient's records without written permission. His response was quick and to the point. "I can't comment or even consider participation on your program because I don't have a medical records release:'Within days he obtained a full medical records release. Our surgeon client then launched a website detailing the exact treatment provided, vividly illustrating the work performed, pointing out the inaccuracies in the photographs provided by this former patient, and laying out in great detail his expertise, reputation, and the case for why the surgery performed achieved a stellar result. The last I heard, the seemingly credible TV guest was discredited and uninvited. And the surgeon's problem was over. Sometimes you can play aggressive offense by running that big fullback right up the gut of the defense. Make sure you control the line of scrimmage first, though.

Aggressive responses are high risk. We don't live in a world of "my lawyer will deal with it:' At least not anymore. It is far too complex an environment to view a demand letter, a cease and desist, a lawsuit, or any other type oflegal communication as the immediate solution. For lawyers, the days of firing off a preformatted letter are a thing of the past. If you assert a legal claim in such a letter and threaten legal action, the recipient can sue you for a "declaratory judgment" in his home town in an effort to outmaneuver you. You become a defendant rather than a plaintiff in a far off place with expensive, new lawyers. Or the letter will be posted online and generate publicity that encourages even more problems. Or the law firm will be attacked. And judging from the very weak search engine optimization techniques employed by most law firms, even rudimentary mobosphere attacks can have an immediate and lasting effect. So make sure when you are under attack you get the right players involved. You can figure out which lawyers and consultants have solid expertise in the specific field of online defamation, and I'll tell you what to look for. But for now, remember that quarterbacks with weak offensive lines get concussions.

The Wild West Show

Google Bomb


Concussions in the online world come from Google Bombs."Google Bomb" refers to anchored text linking practices intended to influence the ranking of particular pages in results returned by the Google search engine. An anchored text link looks like any other link that you dick on in order to go to the web content described. A normal anchor text link actually describes the destination of the link. So you can decide in advance whether you want to visit the linked-to content by the description.

But an anchored text link used in a Google Bomb has an entirely different effect. The link generally does not accurately describe the content to which the link points. So, if a group of people want to use a Google Bomb to attack you, they will point anchored text links to their websites or blogs or social network profiles with your name as the words that are in the link. But the page linked to actually contains derogatory or defamatory content. Then along comes Google's spiders; they associate the defamatory content page as being you, based on the description in the links, and when someone searches for you, Google presents it as a result. At the same time, the misleading links from others to the defamatory page are seen by Google as a vote for the authority of the page, so the site is given a hyperboost in importance and prominence by Google in search results. It's a double whammy. Because of the coming together of these two effects through the use of a Google Bomb, the defamatory site will show up whenever your name is searched, often at the top of the results depending upon the scope of the Google Bomb.

Here is the computer code of an anchor text link: <a href=''http://dozierinternet- law.blogspot.com/">Dozier Internet Law on Trademark</a> The italicized words (for emphasis) designate the web property the link will lead to. The bold words (again for emphasis) are supposed to describe the content located at the site linked to. In this instance, you would see a link on the page that reads "Dozier Internet Law on Trademark;' and by clicking on it you would go to our law firm blog on trademark law. This is the way anchored text links are supposed to work.

Now, here is the computer code of an anchor text link in a Google Bomb: <a href="http://www.XYZsucks.com/">Your Name Here</a>. Notice that the link will show as your name on the page, but will actually lead to a site that attacks you. That's the foundation of a Google Bomb, and this tactic is used in just about every online attack to position negative and derogatory and defamatory lies on the first page of Google results when the target name is searched.

So, the URL to which the link points is buried in the HTML code of the webpage, and not visible to the reader. The only thing a visitor sees is the description of the link, placed there not to accurately describe the content to which the link points, but to mislead Google. The link description Google needs to return accurate and reliable search results has been hijacked.

That's in great part what is happening to Sue. Really offensive and profane comments begin showing up as the third result when she is searched in Google. Soon the first two pages are dominated as more and more web properties of all sorts are launched and Sue's name is repeated time and again. Cross-linking between the posts and comments and content falsely lead Google to treat those pages as belonging to Sue Scheff. So they are presented as organic results when she and PURE are searched. With an impact only Sue can really explain.

All of this is possible because Google relies heavily upon democratization concepts and has built its processes to give heavy weight to the "virtual vote" of netizens (citizens of the web). Google's robots go out onto the web and when they run across an anchored text link they make a note of this fact. Then when the search result algorithms are implemented, Google uses the anchor text link description for independent verification of the contents of a page. After all, the anchored text descriptions should be very reliable since third parties are describing the content, and results are intended to deliver the most relevant result. The link also adds authority to the page since by this link Google·conc1udes that the public is saying "this is important." And while Goog~e has tried to fix this problem in the more notorious cases, the fact remains that Google fundamentally believes in empowering the masses and presenting results by popular vote of the online citizenry. So it's hard to see how this problem will be remedied any time soon. And the concept that links provide valid, independent insight and credible guidance as to the value and importance and authoritative reputation of a webpage makes a lot of sense. So the solution is a tough one for Google to figure out.

The most notorious Google Bomb ever was the "mass link prank" visited upon President Bush. If you looked up "miserable failure" his White House webpage was the first result, and President Obama inherited it for a while when he took office. But all Google Bombs are not so prominent or notorious. In fact, most Google Bombs are not even recognized as such because the mechanism that detonates the Google Bomb is a common utilitarian device (anchored text link) put to use for good and bad everyday, and many times over. Up to now, if an attack was well known, it was a Google Bomb. If not well known, no one noticed. We all need to take more notice of this problem and work toward finding a solution.

That's how a Google Bomb works.

Now let's consider how else you can get Google Bombed.

1. A competitor launches a page or a site and a huge volume of links to that site from its own pages or from pages spread all over the world (that's really easy to do) with your business name as the anchor text. Its site starts showing up in results when people try to locate you.

2. An affiliate marketer selling a competing product or service acquires a high number of anchored text links in your name and points them all to a page that may not even have any competing content on it ... yet. But once it gets a prime ranking, watch out.

3. A group of bloggers and commentators run across a particularly false and unflattering article about you, your kids, or your business. Each individual posts his own snarky and biting comments, restating and rehashing the lies, with a liberal sprinkling (usually three for optimal effect) of anchored text links pointing to the defamatory article. And then every blogger feeds off of one another by linking back to the criticisms voiced by each other. All of the links are anchored with your name. Now you have a massive problem with many, many pages dominating search results when someone looks for you.


Number three is known as a "blog swarm" or a "mobosphere attack." Of course mob justice is an oxymoron. These are coordinated yet highly decentralized attacks perpetrated by unconventional and unlawful means. And we are seeing the effects of such an attack on Sue. She is undergoing an e-lynching. And while there are many other tricks for the mobosphere to use, the ability to Google Bomb is the powerful instigator and progenitor. The mobosphere's Google Bomb is the town crier, the witness, the judge, the jury, and the executioner all rolled up in one. And the bloggers, social networkers, social bookmarkers, forum posters, website owners, and the like all grab their torches and join the march to the jail. It's as if you can hear them muttering, "he's in jail and he's been charged ... he must be guilty."

When you hear me talk in terms of the web being in a Wild West stage of lawlessness, that's what I mean. As Sue is quickly learning.

Anatomy of a Google Bomb and Mobosphere Attack

Google Bomb Revisited


Sue is being hit from all sides, and the instigator and lead attacker appear to have some followers, but not so many that they can step back and have others act as a proxy and do the dirty work for them. The Google Bomber you really have to be on the lookout for is a leader, an authority figure, of a web constituency. As I write this in February 2009, I am watching a Google Bomb attack developing with the leadership of the Public Citizen Litigation Group and Paul Alan Levy. Public Citizen claims to have over 100,000 members, so that is quite an influential constituency to energize. You would think lawyers, particularly ones actually appearing in cases, would never consider instigating an online mob attack against a party to the case. But that is exactly what Levy is doing. And he appears to his constituents, mostly free-speech expansionsists and web-democratization fanatics, as a real leader and an authority figure.

After all, they reason: he seems to always give us the advice we want to hear! I am reminded of the guidance I received in law school from a prominent and controversial federal district judge about positioning arguments before judges. "Pound the facts when the facts are in your favor, pound the law when the law is in your favor, and when neither is in your favor, pound the table." Levy is pounding the table. Of necessity. I view him and his legal team at Public Citizen as the primary protectors for the gross misconduct of scofflaws online. In the mobosphere he is the Godfather. Here's a good example:

It's Friday, February 20, 2009 at 5:38 PM. A preferred time to launch an attack on a business. The technology staff has left for the weekend. Word is out that Jones Day, the 2,000-lawyer law firm, has just settled a lawsuit by forcing a small Internet company to stop "anchor text" linking to its website. And Paul Alan Levy, having filed a brief in the case as a "friend of the court" supporting the small company, but still smarting from the judge's refusal to even consider his arguments, is obviously not happy. His blog post doesn't just include ranting about unethical lawyers and judges. It's not apparent whether the typical mass e-mail went out with his rant to Public Citizen's 100,000 members, but the next day, all hell breaks loose. First, we'll look at what happened, and then analyze what Levy did to incite a Google Bomb and mobosphere attack.

On Slashdot.com the day after Levy's post:

"I wonder if the owners of jonesdaysucks.com feel the same way."

"I get the feeling that they are soon to learn about what is called the Streisand Effect."

"At least you didn't link to gay porn, or child porn, or beastiality, or golden showers, or shit-eaters .... " (all anchored text links pointing to the Jones Day website).

"We are going about this the wrong way ... Jones Day, Jones Day, Jones Day (Don't click on the links, trust me) ... maybe we can get Jones Day the law firm off the front page of Google." (all anchored text links apparently pointing to dangerous sites for your computer).

"I have a feeling Jones Day, are about to have a really bad day."

"Hello? Streisand Effect?"

"The whole Google-Bomb idea was nice .... "

" ... the judge in the case refused to even look at the brief .... "

"Yes, Judge Darrah, l just said you're either incompetent or crooked."

"Or you can rate him here. This should get interesting .... "


Within forty-eight hours, the website that offers a rating system on judges (The Robing Room) is inundated with over 100 ratings, many from "lawyers." Prior to February 22, the judge had received a total of seven reviews in almost three years. Overnight he has become a very popular subject:

"the judge in this case refused to even look at the brief."

"poor temperment, probably crooked."

"What a disgrace to the legal system."

"What a total f*cktard asshole c*ck-knocker. He once tried to fondle my kid brother and offered me oral sex in the bathroom of his courthouse."

"Refusing to look at a brief because the opposing side says it is biased is unconsionable (sic)."

"Biased, lazy, arrogant."

"A disgrace to the system."

"In addition to corrupt, throw in incompetent."

"Corrupt Judge."

"he is an incompetent and corrupt baffoon (sic)."

"biased, degenerative."

"A judge should look at every brief submitted to him."

"Terrible, terrible judge."

"You're a f*cking disgrace."

"Crooked, corrupt, incompetent."

"This rating system is broken ... a 1 is too generous."

"Complete Yankee dickhead."

"Try actually viewing briefs put before you, Judge."


So, we have a little bit of everything here. Google Bombing, the Streisand Effect, and a sucks site. The "don't click on the links" reference is to try to get these linked pages showing up as Jones Day search results so when people click on them their computer could be hijacked or a virus downloaded. Other sites discuss e-mailing the law firm and just about every variation of a Google Bomb and mobosphere attack we discuss.

Now, what exactly did Levy do to instigate this kind of madness? He attacked the judge in the case. "The very fact that the trial judge allowed this case to drag on, rather than dismissing it outright based on the sound reasons that Public Citizen and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put forward in our amicus brief ... "is an outrage according to Levy, continuing his theme first voiced when he claimed the judge refused to listen to him. What comes next is worse, though. He repeated "Jones Day" as an anchored text link twenty-nine times in his blog post. Some of these were links to derogatory articles or to a photograph on the Public Citizen website of the asses of two horses. If there is any doubt about his intentions, read his own words:

"One might, however, suggest that the Internet community to [sic] fight back against Jones Day, by repeatedly deep-linking from its name, and to its website, in precisely the ways to which it objects, but which it cannot prevent through litigation. Jones Day's bullies should learn that they cannot have their way. In addition to linking to Jones Day's own website, the community can use hyperlinks to show Jones Day what they think of its abuse of free speech online. Does Jones Day really believe in its theories of the case? Let's find out. In the end, Jones Day will have to accept the limits of its bullying power."


That is a call to his Internet constituency to fight back with a Google Bomb. And his attacks on the judge had the intended effect of inciting a virtual riot and mob attack on the judge's reputation. Evolving quickly from Levy's request to attack were a panoply of mobosphere attacks from all directions.

My Weapon of Choice Is E-mail

E-mail Abuse


The attacks Levy has precipitated also involve e-mail. The attackers discuss some tactics in general terms and coy suggestions. Sue is also battling the problem of people opening e-mail accounts using her name and sending who knows what out to others. I've had the same problem. E-mail as a weapon is very dangerous.

Imagine you are always the first one in the office every morning. You got it from your father, who got it from his father, the founder of your 100-year-old small-town business. Most powerful retailers stay in business an average of fifty years, so there is a certain comfort in knowing that you'll be handing a well-respected, well-oiled, and reasonably profitable store over to your eldest son when he returns from college graduation this year.

As you open the door, you have a sense that something is amiss. As you walk through the office, you notice message lights for all the phones blinking. Immediately you panic, thinking that a loved one has been trying to reach someone ... anyone ... to get some help. You quickly grab the receiver with your left hand, hit your message key with your right index finger, and find out your voicemail is full. For the next twenty minutes, you listen to one threatening message after another from people all over the country. Some are coming to visit, one with a gun. Others are going to sue, or have contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Trade Commission and the state attorney general. As you look up, you are happy to see a friendly face. Your local sheriff is pulling into the parking lot to check up on things. He's been getting a lot of very weird telephone calls about you.

Your business is under attack. As you slept, an employee you fired last week was sending millions upon millions of spam e-mails out "advertising" your store. And worst of all, the e-mails were asking the outraged recipients to call. The unspeakable content of the e-mails, coupled with obvious violations of the federal CAN-SPAM Act (the federal law regulating the use of commercial email), was quite adequate motivation for people from all over North America to do just that. As the day progresses, your employees are all getting chewed out, ultimately saved from their misery only by the silence caused when your telephone system is overwhelmed. Your e-mail server has long ago stopped functioning, clogged up with a veritable deluge of incoming e-mails. And your website has gone offline also, as if someone had orchestrated a "denial of service" attack. In the coming days, you will start noticing the vicious online attacks about your business. And you will soon find out that your small store has been reported to an Australian spam tracking company that then downloads the IP addresses of spammers to its subscriber base of ISPs allover the world. As you send e-mails, the ISPs are filtering them out as spam without notice. And the internal reporting systems at AOL and Microsoft have already placed your e-mail address domain and IP address on "blacklists;' effectively intercepting many e-mails you send out.

Am I making this up? Wish I was. Several days went by before I got the call and was hired. Even though it has been several years, I still remember the pain and panic in our client's voice on that first call. The biggest concern at that moment was the thought of another round of e-mails. Everyone in the office was scared. And, by the way, business was at a standstill. We immediately communicated directly with the prime suspect. I explained that we did not know who was doing this, but that we would find out, and if it was him he was likely going to learn about the realities of life in a very stark, harsh way.

No other attacks were forthcoming. And as we assessed the situation it became apparent that the FBI couldn't help us. They would only pay attention to a federal violation of CAN -SPAM if at least $100,000 was stolen. Our client, reflecting the class and good judgment obviously at the heart of the century-old business success story, knew the kid had nothing from which to recover a civil judgment. "Let's cut our losses, use the money to help rebuild our business, and move on:' That was a good decision. But the adverse impact of the attack on the good name of the business will take years of investment to fix.

E-mail is the hidden weapon of the web. As I write this, I am receiving emails from myself selling everything from drugs and gambling tips to dating sites. Our domain name SPF record (or "sender policy framework" record), an anti-spam configuration that in theory assures that the sender's address is accurate and not forged, is set properly on our firm e-mail server but obviously there are work-arounds available. I guess this particular spammer figures I'm going to get drugged up, drop some cash at the casino, and then go looking for chicks. But I'm not in Vegas, and I'm not in the market. In all seriousness, spammers have figured out that they can type any sender address into an e-mail no matter where they are sending it from. These emails use "false headers:' How many people ignore lawyer letters? Not many. I expect this spammer is seeing some pretty good "open rates." Which means as time goes by the volume of spam "I" am sending will continue to pick up. This is a form of identity theft, defamation, and product disparagement. It's particularly problematic when those e-mails are reported as "spam" to ISPs and spam-tracking agencies.

But e-mail abuse isn't just about spammers. I've seen legitimate e-mails materially altered in a very unflattering way by the recipient and posted to the web. Some quick advice here: try sending only PDFs that cannot be modified when dealing with a sticky situation. And people love to borrow our law firm name and write official sounding letters threatening all sorts of things. It can happen to you, too. A couple of months ago I got a call from the general counsel's office of a major computer company. "Did you write us a letter, Mr. Dozier?" When I got a copy of it, I was surprised to see that a return address was included on the envelope. A quick address search led me to a state penitentiary in Virginia. I bet it wasn't the warden who sent it out. But that is just a wild guess.

On the flip side, attacks online against a business will often involve more private, intimate moments. Here's just a few I received when our law firm was undergoing a "mobosphere" attack back in October 2007. We like to read through these for laughs, but they are a good example of how e-mail traffic can interfere with your business and possibly upset your employees. And you can bet if they take the time to e-mail you they will be spouting off like this online. We got hundreds and hundreds of these in a couple of days to supplement the many telephone calls our law firm received from around the world. They are all from "anonymous cowards;' of course:

"Just a flame. You're a terrible company and whoever's going through your e-mail bins and chucking out garbage should know that. Hey you, low-level clerk! Steal some important internal documents and torch the mawf*cking building!"

"You f*cking tools don't know the law from your own ass holes."

"You guys are jackasses."

"Why don't you legal hacks get off the Internet until you can learn just how outdated your profession is?"

"Retards."

"Are you tw*ts?"

"You guys are chumps ... I'm rooting for your business to be negatively impacted. Have a lovely day."

"I'm watching, dipshit."

"You people can't possibly, actually possess JD's. You are absolute idiots."

"Why don't you just push for banning freedom of expression? You lawyers could make even more money if you did:"He said he doesn't like the government" or "He tried to tell people that my company is stealing from single mothers!" ... What a lovely world ... ass holes"

"You douchebags."

"I think you're a f*cking group of lawyers that will blow anyone to get a dollar."

"You are a scum bag."

"Because you have been listed on one of the most popular (millions of readers) blogs on the Net, your Google ranking will soon have your bareass story on its first page of hits when somebody Googles your firm, ha ha. My lover works as one of Google's advertising contract lawyers, BTW, so, uh, I have a little influence at Google if you ever try to get such listings removed, let us say."

"You are legal idiots. I will kill you all ... "


How the heck did we get here? Do you think these types of sentiments were communicated through the printed word when the Pony Express was galloping along? We are still dealing with printed words on paper, and while the distribution systems are evolving, the nature of written communications is staying the same. Something else has changed other than the method by which communications are delivered, which we'll explore in more depth shortly.

You're Pitching on Thursday

Impersonators and Imposters


I am reminded of the story of the two elderly gentlemen who would meet in Central Park every day and while away their time dreaming of baseball. They agreed that whoever died first would go find out if there was baseball in heaven and report back. After one passed away, he returned and the surviving friend listened intently. There was good news and bad. The good news? There is baseball in heaven. The bad news? You're pitching on Thursday.

So, the good news? There is this wonderful community called the Internet that can make your dreams come true.

The bad news? Those dreams may have surprises you aren't ready for. Twitter is a microblogging site that allows posts up to 140 characters in length. It's an interesting site allowing interesting people to constantly post comments. The attraction appears to be the ability to follow and be followed throughout the day. Even the Dalai Lama has a Twitter account. Within days of activation, he had attracted over 10,000 followers, all surely intent upon experiencing a day in the spiritual life of the Tibetan Buddhism leader. Except that his people got up with Twitter's people and reported the impersonation. Account closed.

Sounds silly, doesn't it? It would be if silliness was the limit of online impersonators. But if someone can get away with impersonating the Dalai Lama, presumably not expecting on his deathbed to receive total consciousness (if I recall Bill Murray's description in Caddyshack correctly), how many other imposters and impersonators are there online today?

Likely tens of thousands. And the problem is that if someone decides to impersonate you, the damage can be catastrophic. We're not talking about financial identity theft. We're addressing very real conduct that can be aimed at you, your family, and your business in seconds. The trick is that these perpetrators are focused on one thing -- injuring your reputation and good name. There is no credit bureau reporting system set up to address and resolve this type of identity theft.

E-mail accounts are opened in your name and porn sent out. You are suddenly getting strange calls responding to an explicit solicitation "you" posted on Craigslist. Or your photo and other personally identifiable information are being used to open accounts on dating sites. New MySpace and Facebook profiles appear out of nowhere. How about that new website you just launched. Do you like it?

You try to open an online blog and your name is already taken. A quick blog search reveals that you already have a blog ... with bizarre rants against your boss, coworkers, and the president of the United States, as you wonder if the next knock on the door will be the Secret Service. And you seem to be jumping into discussions all over the web making nasty comments, inciting the forum participants, egging them on, almost to the point of it appearing as if you are inviting a "mobosphere attack." And, unfortunately, "you" are.

Soon enough, your online reputation is defined by the false profiles, accounts, and comments attributed to you. But a Google Bomb has also exploded in your face. You keep pissing people off with your rants and attacking comments. They fire back in self-defense, albeit anonymously, by anchor-text linking to your crazy sites, blogging about you, and initiating or participating in a blogger swarm that will likely cause irreversible problems for you forever.

Responding to an impersonation attack can get involved. Some sites have so many impersonators that they ignore any requests for assistance. Others recognize the problem and try to deal with it proactively. This can happen to anyone; not just musicians and sports heroes. Law enforcement officers, crime victims, doctors, and lawyers are favorite subjects. MySpace even has a special complaint submission form just for teachers being impersonated.

The good news is that if you approach legitimate bloggers, they most often will remove the post. But I recall running across a rather extensive diatribe "I" authored about copyright infringement on a blog, and when I asked for the post to be removed, the blog owner claimed it had to have been posted by me since there was a link to our website in the post. The misspelling of my name was of little sway. Sometimes you run into people who are just clueless. And if "your" comments are generating a lot of dialogue, the blog owner is more likely to decide to keep it up and reap the search engine optimization and advertising benefits. Eyeballs are money, after all.

Not a month goes by that I don't hear about someone making threats or claims in my name online. Unfortunately for me, sending a cease and desist letter doesn't create a lot of goodwill. In fact, it can be the source of a Google Bomb and mobosphere attack. And it can happen to you, too.

In order to protect yourself from "yourself," set up the early warning system. Go to every major blog, e-mail, social network, social bookmarking, and reputation-related website and open a free account in your name. If you have a unique name, and you are told by the site that the name is already taken, then be very aware that something bad may be in the offing. Get all the variations of your name, your kids' names, and your business name that you can. Remember, it's free. When the attack happens, be prepared to go to web sites and follow their procedures for removing content of impersonators. Be careful with the self-help, though. One of the favorite tricks used by the scofflaws involved in a mobosphere attack against your good name is to claim that you did make the comment and are now trying to retract it. Then they start attacking you for committing "fraud?' It can become a vicious snarking cycle with seemingly no end in sight, itself building up more negative Google search results on your name.

Now back to the Dalai Lama. Disappointed, his legions of social networking fans are left with either his Facebook or MySpace accounts. And if they can't pull themselves away from Twitter, and still have that desire to virtually interact with a Holiness, they can go to God's personal Twitter account. Over 5,000 followers have already found God on Twitter.
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Re: Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That

Postby admin » Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:40 pm

ALL RISE (REPRISED)

Twitter wasn't around in 2005, but I gladly would have taken any advice the Dalai Lama (and certainly God!) might have had to offer concerning two significant events that occurred in March and May of that seemingly endless year.

As the case had progressed, and Clark's lawyers had fought us every step of the way, the tide began to turn for some unknown reason. On March 7, 2005, Clark was sworn under oath and testified on her own behalf in Louisiana. David flew there to conduct the deposition in person and proved himself to be a skilled examiner. Under his questioning Clark admitted that although she had acquired legal counsel upon being served, she had never paid a cent to her lawyers. When asked who had been paying her attorney fees for well over a year, she denied knowing. Further questioning, however, revealed that the law firm litigating her case had direct ties (drum roll, please) to the same law firm she had sold -- sorry, "loaned" -- her computer to in exchange for $12,500 as compensation for the inconvenience of its brief absence.

This, of course, was the same firm that represented the large and powerful corporation that tried to silence my criticism of treatment facilities they owned by suing me unsuccessfully. Now it looked to me as if they were providing "protection" to Clark in the hopes, I believed, that she would continue to get away with disparaging my name and reputation. It's interesting that what you cannot sometimes achieve in court you can get done on the Internet.

Although Clark was receiving legal representation at no cost to herself, such was not the case with me. By May 2005, I was not only being financially drained from the cost of litigation, I was so emotionally and mentally exhausted that I felt I could not go on. But whenever settlement discussions arose, it seemed like her lawyers were never willing to get serious about them. In retrospect, I wonder now if the drawing out of this litigation was a strategy in and of itself so Clark could continue, and escalate, her attacks on me.

And so, with no other choice, I soldiered on -- while the legal bills continued to mount. A rather large expense, and worth every penny, were multiple depositions taken of witnesses for me. I feel certain that these various individuals from different walks of life, whose personal and professional paths had crossed mine, played a very significant role in the fast-approaching trial -- that turned out to be unexpectedly delayed.

David had spent the better part of the past year doing depositions with witnesses around the country and preparing our case in an immaculate way. We were scheduled to go to trial on July 6, 2006, as everyone returned from the Independence Day holiday. The irony was not lost on me. But then suddenly two months before trial, Clark's attorneys terminated their representation of her and the judge gave her a continuance of the trial date! As long as I had waited for justice, mine would have to wait. Whatever happened to the concept that justice delayed is justice denied? That was hard to take.

From that point forward, Clark refused to participate in the case. "Do whatever you want, I don't care," was her statement to my lawyer, before she hung up on him. She did not appear at the mediation after being ordered to do so. David continued to mail copies of all pleadings and correspondence to the address in Texas that Clark had provided to the court. The address in question was located in a gated community. Two resort pools, a putting green, fitness studio, clubhouse, business center, and more. Not exactly the Superdome.

It still bothers me that people, including lawyers who don't know about the facts of my case, claim I won because Clark had been a Hurricane Katrina victim and could not go forward with her defense. That's just total hogwash.

She would later claim to the appellate courts and in public that as a victim of Hurricane Katrina she was emotionally incapacitated, but one of her own witnesses had inadvertently revealed in depositions that Clark had sold her house about three weeks before Katrina hit. And after her lawyers fired her, she was so depressed that she moved from Texas back to Louisiana, then vacationed in Las Vegas and got married.

So it wasn't surprising to me that as I gazed around the courtroom on Monday, September 18, M. Clark was a no-show. The day I had awaited for so long, of facing her in court and making her account for herself personally to a jury, was not going to happen. But the trial would go on.

The first thing we did was pick a jury. After what seemed like forever, the judge looked at David and nodded to him to proceed with an opening statement. I was so anxious all I wanted was for the testimony to begin, but he was meticulous in carefully laying out a road map built on the details of the evidence the jury would hear. His presentation was very straightforward and matter-of-fact. But it took way too long in my mind given my almost hyperanxiety about clearing my name. It had been three long years and I was ready for it all to end so I could move on with my life. I wanted to see the jurors' reactions to my evidence, and I wanted to look them in the eyes and tell them my story. I guess I couldn't wait for someone to stand up in a position of authority and tell me that I was okay. Their word, through their verdict, is what I wanted. These were my thoughts as the opening argument consumed much of the morning.

Since the witnesses we had deposed in this case were spread out all over the country, we were able to rely on their deposition transcripts as evidence, with their testimony presented to the jury in written and oral form by David.

If you would, imagine that you're in the courtroom with me. And if you would, imagine that the testimony David is reading aloud is accompanied by the presence of each witness taking the stand under oath -- an oath they all, indeed, took to swear that each word they spoke was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And so help me God, the last thing I would ever do is subject these good people to the very horrors I've endured by exposing their actual names in this book.

I don't know if you've already drawn a picture of David in your mind, but this is what he looks like: he's about five feet eight inches tall, not Shaquille O'Neal tall but his presence fills up any room he walks into. He's a smart dresser, and although I've never checked the labels, he probably goes for Brooks Brothers suits when he wants to dress for success, such as this trial. Since I'm in my forties, he still seems young in his midthirties.

David is incredibly intelligent. He could be intimidating with his razor-sharp mind and quick wit if he wanted to be, but I just can't imagine him speaking down to another person -- especially a jury panel that he has a way of immediately connecting with. I'm not sure if it's his pleasant voice, his animated gestures, his eye contact, his sincerity, his passion. Probably all that, and then some. I can't put my finger on what exactly it is about him that commands respect and attention almost on sight, but I'm really, really glad to have this guy in my corner.

The first witness David calls is a middle-aged woman, naturally attractive but showing the signs of stress-induced age. Adults who opt not to have children, or happen to have "perfect" children, don't wear their marching years like this. At least that's been my observation, and I've had more than my share of meetings with parents of troubled teens to draw such observations from.

"Ms. Jones," he says, "could you please tell us, how did you meet Sue Scheff?"

"At a conference in Florida on child abuse in facilities."

"And do you know what PURE is?"

''It's a little company that Sue Scheff set up to try to give parents an alternative and put their children in good programs that she has already investigated to make sure the children are safe."

''Thank you. And do you know an individual by the name of M. Clark?

"I do. Ms. Clark contacted Sue Scheff regarding two sons who had been placed in a troubled-teen facility in Costa Rica. Ms. Scheff tried to assist Ms. Clark by giving her what information she could. And for awhile, Ms. Clark was on our listserv."

"Okay. I'm going to show you what I've marked as Composite Exhibit One, and I want you to describe to the jury what this is."

"Well, they're documents showing how we tried to help Ms. Clark and, at the ending, how angry she got when we didn't do what she asked us to do."

"And who is 'Lisa'?"

"She is the girl who was allegedly raped and beaten at the place in Costa Rica where Ms. Clark's boys were. Ms. Clark had the media there when she went to get her boys back. Then she told me through an e-mail, not through the listserv, that she had a documentary in the works on her story of getting her children from the facility they were in. She needed Lisa to come forward in order to sign a contract for this documentary."

'Was it your understanding that if she was able to get that contract for the documentary, that she would be paid money?"

"Yes, sir, that was my understanding. And she said it would be a sure deal if the victim would come forward. 'I need her to talk to the media in order to get this contract'"

"Do you know what happened when she approached Sue Scheff to ask her to get the victim to go to the media?"

"Sue Scheff repeatedly told her the child was too traumatized and an e-mail went back and forth, and Ms. Clark's e-mails got madder and madder and said that Sue Scheff could do it. She's not helping her. Everyone on the listserve individually wrote Ms. Clark, I believe, and said it is not appropriate, the child is traumatized. She did not get angry with everyone else because she felt like Sue Scheff was the one that could get it done. Sue Scheff was holding it up. She did not feel like any of us had the authority to do it. But as you can see in this e-mail she says that she's going to do what she has to do to expose the truth."

"Did you ever have occasion to read some postings on another website besides your listserv?"

"Yes, after Ms. Clark was removed from the Trekkers, she started posting on another website, and most of her posts were directed at Ms. Scheff and PURE. The tone she used was very ugly, vengeful. She was a very bitter woman."

"To your knowledge are any of the allegations made by Ms. Clark against Ms. Scheff true?"

"Absolutely not. Mr. Pollack, I read those posts for about three to four weeks, and truthfully, they made me sick to my stomach. I quit reading them. I understand it went on for a considerable amount of time, and Sue would call me crying. She felt that it was going to hurt the kids that she's trying to help get placed because she was put in such a bad light all over the Internet. The personal attacks on her, plus the professional attacks, devastated her. She was constantly crying and went into an extreme depression. She was never like that before this happened."

"Based on your knowledge, was PURE and helping kids something that was important to Ms. Scheff?"

"It was very important to her. She lived this twenty-four hours a day. She would take calls at midnight if a parent needed something. Ms. Scheff is very dedicated to PURE and helping other parents. That's her heart."

"Now are you aware of anything that Ms. Scheff did to Ms. Clark that would have caused all of those negative postings?"

"Not what she did, what Ms. Clark assumed she did by not getting Lisa to come forward with the media or do a story. Ms. Clark lost out on any deal she was going to make, and she blamed Sue Scheff for that."

"Do you consider yourself a close personal friend of Ms. Scheff's?" "Not a friend-that-I've-grown-up-with type of friendship, but I respect Ms. Scheff very much."

The sound of David's pause is noticeable in the courtroom. Everyone's so quiet. I have to wonder what the jury members are thinking. I still can hardly believe this all got started because of a documentary that, in Clark's mind at least, I had torpedoed -- a deal that I didn't even know was in the works! Not that knowing would have changed anything. There's still no way I would have tried to push a young victim into the media spotlight for ... what? Money? Fifteen minutes of fame? Okay, I finally have my answer -- and I still can't wrap my brain around a motivation like that.

I keep looking at the jury, wondering what they're thinking, wondering if this day will ever end now that it's at long last here. It's been three years, three years, since this entire ordeal started with the threat, "Sue, you are going down, I bet you are scared to death! You know you are going down because what you have done and are doing is wrong!" And now that I'm having my day in court, I'm desperate for some closure, even more for vindication by a jury of my peers, as witness after witness takes the stand and the pile of documents keeps growing. Reliving all this in a room filled with strangers is painful and makes the old wounds feel so fresh. Especially when David calls Judy Davis to testify.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Davis. You've been sworn in, so you are under oath as you testify in this court. Ms. Davis, how long have you known Sue Scheff?"

"Probably three and a half years."

"And how did you meet Sue Scheff?"

"1 went online after we had put our son in a program. I was doing research and I found her website. I contacted her and was basically asking her questions regarding the facilities that my son was in."

'Was she helpful in her attempt to share information?"

"Yes, she was. She was well-informed and knowledgeable about it all."

"Now, have you ever met M. Clark?"

"I've never met her but I know who she is. Ms. Clark contacted Ms. Scheff because she was needing information and looking for assistance to get her sons out of a Costa Rica facility that her ex-husband had placed them in."

"Was Ms. Clark concerned about the fact that the school was in Costa Rica and she was unfamiliar with the area?"

"Yes. And I know she was taking media with her, and some other man that had been there before."

"When she decided to take these people, do you know whether that was a decision that she made on her own or that somebody forced her to do?"

"Oh, no. That was a decision she made on her own. And I sure wouldn't have gone there myself without taking someone with me. It is a foreign country, and I wouldn't know anything about it or what to expect."

"Thank you. Now Ms. Davis, what I've given you is called "Composite Exhibit One" and on page three you'll see a string of e-mails from the Trekker's listserv. Were the people who were involved with the listserv supportive of Ms. Clark in trying to get her sons out of the Costa Rica facility?"

"Yes. Everyone was trying to help Ms. Clark, not hurt her. But there was a girl that had supposedly been raped at one of the facilities, and I think it was where Ms. Clark's sons were at. And she was trying to get the girl to come forward with the rape, and she was resorting to calling and making threats to both the child and the mother. And she was doing this out of her own agenda to get this girl to go public."

"And did Ms. Clark appear to be very insistent about that?"

"She was more than insistent, yes. She was calling the mother and giving fictitious names in order to try to get them to talk to her. You know, she just wasn't honest in the beginning. Had she been honest with them, it may have been a different story."

"Do you know whether Ms. Clark at the time that she was doing this had received any offers or inquiries about participating in a documentary concerning her children?"

"Yes. It was my understanding that she was trying to use this girl's story ... Ms. Clark was trying very hard to get this story out into the public because it would help her with that."

"Is it your understanding then, that Ms. Clark was going to be paid money to participate in the documentary?"

"Yes."

"Okay, if you'll turn to the last page, would you please summarize what these e-mails are about?"

"They're posts from the website Ms. Clark went to after we removed her from our listserv. In the different posts she's accusing PURE and Ms. Scheff of being crooks ... being a con artist, a fraud, operating a scam ... exploiting families and placing children in risky and possibly abusive programs."

'To the best of your knowledge, are any of those statements true statements?"

"No. Absolutely not. Sue Scheff did nothing to Ms. Clark to cause this. All Sue Scheff ever did was try to support Ms. Clark."

"Do you know whether Ms. Clark ever threatened on this website to post Ms. Scheff's deposition from another trial?"

"Yes."

"Do you have any doubt that Ms. Clark would have posted that deposition if Ms. Scheff had not gone to court to stop her?"

"I have no doubt whatsoever."

"Can you tell the jury how these negative posts affected Ms. Scheff?"

"Emotionally she was a wreck. I mean, here you have someone spreading this malicious stuff via the Internet, and she couldn't go on there and fight for herself. And then financially I'm sure that there had to be repercussions because of that."

"Do you know what kind of financial effect it had on her?"

"I shouldn't have said financially. I mean, Sue never really made a lot of money at PURE anyway. But what it did was -- is put a hamper (sic) for parents to call Sue and get information, so it basically stopped Sue from being able to help, you know, children."

"Do you know whether she might have been able to help lots more children if this hadn't occurred?"

"Yes, I believe that."

"Do you know if people stopped calling her or referring people to her as a result of what these posts said?"

"Yes."

"Do you feel that Sue Scheff is different today as a result of what Ms. Clark did, in terms of Ms. Scheff's work with helping parents and kids?"

"Yes. She's extremely cautious now about who she speaks to and what she says. She would refer parents to speak to somebody else other than speak to them herself because of all this mess."

"I have no further questions, Ms. Davis. Thank you very much for your time."

And with that, Judge Luzzo declared court adjourned for the day.

***

I remember being beyond worn out. I remember my stomach was in knots and I hadn't eaten since breakfast, but I still couldn't take a bite out of a five-star meal if I had to. I was so drained and anxious that sleep that night was an exercise in exhaustion itself. But come morning, knowing this nightmare would be drawing to an end one way or the other in hours, adrenaline kicked in and I managed to end up at the courthouse in one piece. It was a miracle I made it since I couldn't recall a single light, turn, or other car on the road en route. But somehow there I was, along with the jury, the judge, and the bailiff, while David called the next-to-last witness.

"Good morning. Can you state your name for the record?"

"John Lewis."

"And where do you live, Mr. Lewis?"

"Pleasanton, California."

"What do you do professionally?"

"I'm retired, but professionally I was an educational psychologist with a part-time private practice and also a school psychologist."

"And in that capacity you referred parents who were looking to get information about placing their children in boarding-type schools to Ms. Scheff and to PURE?"

"Yes."

"And did you believe that Ms. Scheff did a good job in assisting those parents?"

"Absolutely."

"Based on your experience with Ms. Scheff during the eight years that you have known her, is there any factual evidence you're aware of to support that she's a crook, a con artist, or a fraud?"

"No. But let me say that after I'd referred a number of clients to her that were very pleased with her services, and in many cases they did place their children in boarding schools that Ms. Scheff and PURE referred them to, I did have a client that I referred to Ms. Scheff for consideration of placing her niece that she was the guardian of in a program. And within a few days the client came back to me very upset and asked if I was aware of all the negative things on the Internet that she read about Ms. Scheff. At the time I wasn't. And she said that she couldn't possibly call her because of all of those negative things that she read, and it turned out that the negative things were about fraud and bilking people or overcharging people and conning people."

"And that client got her information about Ms Scheff off the Internet?" "Yes. She basically typed in either 'PURE' or 'Sue Scheff' in a search engine and that information somehow came back to her, and she was very upset at me because I was unaware of that information, or, if I was aware, I didn't inform her about it."

"Did the information that your client got off the Internet affect your decision about referring other parents to Ms. Scheff?"

"Yes. I immediately stopped referring people to Ms. Scheff and PURE, and I also removed her name from the Northern California school psychologist referral directory because I felt that it was affecting my credibility if I referred any client to anyone that had so many assailable remarks about their services that were public information."

"So those remarks affected your decision not to refer parents to PURE and to Ms. Scheff."

"Well, not only mine, but also all of my colleagues that were making referrals to PURE. There were between thirty and sixty, something like that, at the time."

"Okay, how would you describe the posts that you read in terms of their tone?"

''They were hostile, disparaging, and very negative."

"Is it fair to say that the postings caused Ms. Scheff emotional distress?"

"Yeah, absolutely. Because when she talked to me, I told her that she sounded really upset and depressed. And she said she was so depressed and embarrassed and frustrated and angry that she was really unable to continue working with families and placing their children in programs because she was so devastated by all of the lies that were being put out about her, PURE, and her daughter on the Internet; that she knew other people were reading it, and it was very traumatizing for her."

"You have had extensive experience, have you not, in your profession in dealing with parents who have troubled teens, and with people who have gone through those schools and are survivors of them?"

"Yes."

"And based on all the information that you've seen on these bulletin boards and the Internet, is it fair to say that there are a lot of parents and survivors who are very strident in their opinions about these programs?"

"Yes. And I think it's also fair to say that strident feeling sometimes is expressed in a very hostile way at other people within the community trying to help children, and Ms. Scheff was a victim of that."

"The people that you heard about those postings from, did they say that they had spoken to Ms. Scheff about them?"

"No. They basically said they knew about it and that she had lost a lot of her supporters because of those things, and that they wanted no further contact from her."

"Do you know prior to these postings about Ms. Scheff? Were people attacking her?"

"No. As a matter of fact, she was a leader, a sort of an impresario for people who needed support and consultation. Sue Scheff was always there for them. They could call her or e-mail her at any time, and in my experience, she would always provide them with very supportive, positive advice. She was a leader, someone they looked up to, someone that they wanted to help in return."

"So these posts had an effect on her reputation in the community of people involved in helping families with troubled teens?"

"They were absolutely devastating to her, to her reputation. Given the controversy and all of the consternation and negativity around PURE and around Ms. Scheff, there's absolutely no way that I could conscientiously refer a client to her."

"So even if the information wasn't really true, you still wouldn't be able to comfortably refer clients to her because it would have an impact on your reputation, correct?"

''That's a very good statement, yes."

"Okay, do you know whether any professionals outside of California, outside of your circle, were also referring parents to Ms. Scheff?"

"1 know that Ms. Scheff was getting a lot of referrals from around the country because a few times I called her for consultation, and I would describe a situation or a need, and she would say, 'Well, I did refer some clients to this program that I think would match your needs.' And I heard back from, you know, an educational therapist in New York or Ohio or Minnesota who said that they were very appreciative of the referral, and everything was working out well. So I know Ms. Scheff was getting referrals from professionals like me nationally."

"And had the postings on the Internet not occurred, prior to that time you were getting positive feedback about Ms. Scheff and PURE?"

"I always got positive feedback about her until that one client of mine got really upset that I didn't tell her about the things or didn't know about the controversy on the Internet regarding Ms. Scheff. The clients that I had previously referred to her were very happy with Ms. Scheff and repeatedly told me that she went over and beyond for them, that she was very helpful. And even the clients of mine that didn't place their children in schools that she recommended, she provided them a lot of consultation and a lot of referral information at no cost, and the clients were very surprised and very pleased with Ms. Scheff."

"I have no further questions, Mr. Lewis. I appreciate your time."

And now, the last witness was being called:

Me.

I honestly cannot tell you what David asked me or a word of what I said in return. Minds have a way of blocking out events we'd rather not relive. What I do remember is sitting in that witness box, unable to face my accuser of fraud and worse, so much worse, and finding some solace in the next best thing: the jury. Being able to look straight into the eyes of each one and speak directly to them in such a way I hoped they fully grasped what this moment meant for me: I had been residing in a living hell for three years, this trial period was my purgatory, and their decision was my Judgment Day.

David's closing argument was no less than brilliant. He took the vast amount of information that had accumulated over the years and made it simple for the jury to understand -- the defendant was driven by greed, hatred, dishonesty, and a malicious intent. And I knew, no matter how the case came out, after hearing his closing argument I felt I was vindicated. I had prayed so long for someone, someplace, sometime to truly understand what I had endured. That someone was David Pollack. That someplace was before a jury of my peers. And that sometime was now.

The day was September 19, 2006, a Tuesday. It was a little before 2:30 in the afternoon and the weather was sunny in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The surf was up just down the street, and my stomach was riding a wild wave as the jury of six somberly filed into the nearly empty courtroom.

I had no idea what to expect. David leaned a little closer and whispered, "Well, this is it .... "I wished for something I could hold onto besides his words since my legs weren't feeling very steady as the bailiff, a very kindly looking older man, intoned, "All rise."

The Honorable Judge John Luzzo, in flowing black robe and wearing his duties with appropriate dignity, took his elevated seat on the bench and asked the foreman, "Has the jury reached a verdict?"

"We have, Your Honor." She handed their verdict to the bailiff, who gave it to the judge -- he nodded in seeming approval -- then back it went from the judge to the bailiff to the foreman. The air was trapped in my lungs and the pound of pulsing blood was in my ears as she began to read, line by line, the jury's unanimous decision.

Suddenly I was crying and I couldn't stop the tears that were streaming down my face as David scribbled the numbers while the foreman kept reading aloud, the jury verdict form clasped in her hands. I had to see it myself, touch this paper that declared the jury's outrage over the abuse of our freedom of speech and the message they wanted to declare loudly enough to be heard around the world. Just listen:

Image

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CASE NO. 03-022837 (18)

IN THE SEVENTEENTH CIRCUIT

IN AND FOR. BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA

CIVIL DIVISION

CASE NO. 03-022837 (18)

SUSAN SCHEFF, individually and as parent, guardian, and next friend of S.S., a minor child, and PARENTS UNIVERSAL RESOURCE EXPERTS, INC. a/k/a PURE, a Florida corporation,

Plaintiffs

v.

Defendant

VERDICT FORM

WE, THE JURY IN THE ABOVE STYLED CAUSE, FIND AS FOLLOWS:

1. What is the amount of any loss, injury or damages sustained by Sue Scheff in the past as a result of Defendant's actions?

$890,000.00

2. What is the amount of any loss, injury or damages to be sustained by Sue Scheff in the future as a result of Defendant's actions?

$2,535,000.00

3. What is the amount of any loss, injury, or damages sustained by PURE in the past as a result of Defendant's actions?

$1,170,000.00

4. What is the amount of any loss, injury or damages to be sustained by PURE in the future as a result of Defendant's actions?

$1,755,000.00

5. What is the total amount of punitive damages, if any, which you find by the greater weight of the evidence, should be assessed against

$2,000,000.00 (for PURE)

$3,000,000.00 (for Sue Scheff)

If you elect not to assess punitive damage against [DELETE] you should enter a zero (0) as the amount of damages, and sign and date the Verdict Form.

TOTAL DAMAGES OF SUE SCHEFF: $6,425,000.00

TOTAL DAMAGES OF PURE: $4,925,000.00

SO SAY WE ALL, this 19 day of September, 2006.

Amber L., Foreperson


The Limestone Theory

What a Court Judgment Really Means


"You can't get water from a rock" is often a self-serving declaration offered by crooks and scofflaws when caught. Obviously they never took a geology class or watched Survivorman get water from the most interesting places, including limestone formations through which water is filtered over hundreds of years.

It's an unfortunate misperception that exists even today. In my former life, prior to venturing off into the e-commerce world in 1994 and starting what would become a venture-backed, e-commerce solutions company recognized as the top new technology company in my region, I was a collections lawyer. Having handled hundreds of thousands of claims, and filing well over 1,000 legal actions each month, trust me when I tell you that there are many ways to collect a judgment. Because a monetary judgment carries with it consequences today that simply didn't exist before. Just as the web and Google are used to attack, they are also used to inform.

A judgment is a public record. So it won't be long before the web becomes a very effective tool for judgment creditors to list judgments and have them automatically optimized like the "product review" and "scam reporting" websites of today. This will become a form of "shaming" judgment debtors into payment, even if they have no apparent ability to pay now or in the future. For the big-money judgment debtors (Sue's experience will become more common), they will become bound by injunctions and their ability to navigate the web, and participate actively and credibly online, may be lost forever. That is going to come as a shock to those who believe there are no repercussions to ignoring the law.

Sue understands that getting an $11 million monetary judgment against someone personally is often meaningless unless it can be collected. While many homeowners may have insurance coverage under their homeowner's insurance policy, Sue's attacker did not; however Sue has retained Louisiana lawyers who are aggressively pursuing collection of the judgment. Now I have a message for the scofflaws of the web, those who think the legal system has no teeth, those who have no present ability to voluntarily pay a judgment, those who believe they can hide behind a corporation (they can't), and those who have moved all their assets overseas. Interest on an $11 million judgment is over $1 million per year. And if you think bankruptcy is an option, you are about to be very disappointed, in most cases.

The law does have teeth. My experience tells me that the majority of those who elect to undertake an online attack believe they have absolutely nothing to lose. Their response to the problems they bring on is that you cannot get water from a rock, or blood from a turnip, so you can just stand in line like all the other people who have judgments. Here is the letter I would like to write in reply:

Dear Judgment Debtor:

As you know, the judge has entered a final judgment in the sum of $1 million against you personally. In addition, there is an injunction in place prohibiting a broad range of activities. If you violate this order you can rest assured that my client will consider bringing civil contempt charges against you and referring your misconduct over to the prosecutor for consideration of criminal contempt of court charges. Despite what you might have read online, there is a ''debtor's prison:' and if you continue to violate the injunction my client will consider offering you the opportunity to learn the finer points of prison life.

We are going into the post-judgment collection process, during which we have an extraordinary set of tools to use to chase you down, chase your money down, chase your property down, and delve into your personal life in ways you have probably never considered. If you work, we will garnish your wages. If you have a bank account, we will take it all. If someone owes you money, we will find out and take it. You must attend depositions from this date forward every six months, during which you will bring all of your financial information, including bank account statements, and we will track down your money flow. If you have a car, we will seize it. If you have a house, we will force a court-ordered sale of it and take the equity. If you have a washer and dryer, a bicycle, a TV, and other personal property, we will send the sheriff to seize it, and we will auction your property off as advertised in your local paper.

If you get a job, we will garnish your wages within weeks. If you apply for a job, or for credit, for the remainder of your natural life this judgment will be on the first page of Google results when you are searched. This judgment will be your online legacy for your children, and the children of your children, to view forever more.

We will require you to appear in court proceedings every six months. If you fail to appear after a show cause, we can have you arrested and held in your local jail until the next hearing date. But rest assured that we will decide on the time and place of your arrest.

If you have any type of retirement account, we will make every effort to seize it. If you own stocks, we will force the liquidation and get paid the proceeds. If you run an online business, we will garnish your customers, PayPal, Google AdSense, and everyone else we can find. They will be required to pay all the money in your account on an ongoing basis to us since we will serve the garnishments every ninety days. If you move, we will follow.

This judgment will be recorded on your land records and become a lien on real estate interests you may acquire in the future. We are reporting this judgment to the credit bureaus and your ability to ever get credit again will soon be gone.

We will follow you to wherever you move, and do the same thing over and over.

The next knock on your door could be from the sheriff, and it could be anytime. But rest assured it will be at a time of our careful choosing.


Obviously this letter is a relatively succinct list of tools and remedies that, together with applicable statutory exemptions, vary by state. But you work with the tools you have. Envision yourself in the judgment debtor's shoes ... never knowing when the sheriff will knock on his door to inventory his household effects, never knowing when the money he is owed by a business will disappear into your coffers, never knowing when he will be required to come in and be interrogated, and never knowing when his car will be pulled over and seized. Yes, you do work with the tools you have, and on a rock, I recommend a chisel.

For those of you who need a wake-up call, for those parents who want to drive the reality of online misconduct into your children's young and impressionable minds, or for those who simply need to know that our legal system is not broken but can offer powerful solutions, I write this open letter. And for those who decide to continue perpetrating attacks on the innocent, for those who embrace lawlessness over lawfulness, for those who try to wrap themselves in our flag and hide behind OUR Constitution, for those of you who have forsaken true justice for mob justice, and for those who have not the courage to stand up and be counted and object, but prefer rather to be swept along with the mobosphere in the latest swarm attack on the helpless, read my lips: If we get involved, we'll come knocking. And you will at that point have few options other than to live a life in destitution. Or go on the run and be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life.

Can't get water from a rock? Think again.

The Awakening of the Sleeping Tiger

Your Time To Speak


While juries deal with individual rights and obligations, and judge on a case-by-case basis the right thing to do, the overriding societal benefit from the jury system is education. Jurors contribute mightily to defining the norms of society and what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct. They are the brave souls who toil long and hard with the singular goal of doing the right thing, and often reflect a wisdom and judgment that lawyers and judges admire and respect. And far more often than not, they get it right.

In Sue's case, they got it right. That jury could have awarded Sue some nominal amount of money. But then what message would be sent by that? Lawyers defending victims of attacks view this as a great victory, principally because it sends out a message heard around the world that the legal system is catching up with the realities of living in today's society. Lawyers for free-speech fanatics characterize the $11.3 million judgment as an anomaly, a decision of a runaway jury disconnected from reality and overcome by the passions and emotions of the moment.

Ignore it, and it will go away. Deny it, and it will be impugned. Attack it, and it will wilt.

But I am reminded of my history lessons about December 7, 1941, and the attack that will live in infamy. While the upper echelons of the Japanese forces celebrated in perceived victory, from the highest reaches of the enemy leadership came the thought that they had "awakened a sleeping tiger:' Attack them and they wilt? Break their back and their will is destroyed? The attack became a defining moment when clarity of purpose was achieved and a unified will arose. And it is very much the same feeling today. Has our society evolved from being mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore to finding Pulp Fiction inspiration in Samuel L. Jackson's well-chosen, albeit foreboding, words? "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men."

If so, many of you know what happened next.

Now, of course, I am not suggesting any sort of violence. This is hyperbole. And the coming struggles won't be easy. There will be skirmishes and battles and campaigns to be fought. But the war has been joined. And all across the country, in our small local courthouses to the grand halls of the Supreme Court of the United States, from the chambers of local city councils to the lobbies of Congress, justice will prevail.

But along the way reputations will be ruined. Very real dangers do exist. Those who have the courage to stand up will be threatened and attacked mercilessly. But there will come those who take this blight of online society head-on. Perhaps it will be for personal vindication. Perhaps it will be driven by a deep-seated commitment to justice, a sense of devotion to our country, or a simple fundamental belief in doing the right thing. But they will come. And one day, the scofflaws and miscreants will dig out of their caves toward the light, only to find that it is an oncoming locomotive. Yes, Sue has built the foundation for others to follow. She has paid the price. And you are soon to find out just how big a price she has paid.
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