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Victim's Help for Internet Libel or "e-libel"

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Reflections & Advice From a Career Re-builder & Internet Libel Survivor

The Very Low-tech End to Business and Career

by Michael Roberts -- Internet Libel Survivor, Case Analyst and e-libel Victim's Advocate.

Reputation is what others say about you.
Character is what you really are as evidenced by your actions when no one is observing.

Michael Roberts Rexxfield

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Do not proceed without reading the disclaimer at the bottom of the page. Click here to read.

There is a “low-tech" form of personal injury that goes largely unnoticed by those yet to experience it, and yet causes billions of dollars in irreparable damage to business goodwill, personal reputation and very significantly the emotional well-being of victims. This assault is called INTERNET LIBEL; a form of the ancient legal theory of SLANDER with origins in Roman jurisprudence.

A person who relies on his or her reputation to find gainful employment or to find and retain customers, is particularly susceptible to a malicious smear campaign. His or her livelihood can be as thoroughly destroyed by a relentless and anonymous blogger as that of a farmer who has had his livestock destroyed and barns set aflame by a vandal. The difference being that judges can relate to a tangible loss of $500,000 worth of cows and corn, but may dismiss the libel victim's intangible losses as petty, and not worthy of setting in motion the wheels of justice.

I personally survived such an assault; it was a frustrating and bitter experience, which left a business in ruins, staff unemployed and vendors unpaid. By the grace of God I was able to turn this adversity into an opportunity by combining my experience in information technology security and forensics with my experiences in combating the libelous siege against my character. This combination manifested in the form of "Rexxfield". By collaborating with experts from various fields, including psychology, medicine, technology, legal and public relations, we were able to produce resources to assist victims in their efforts to remedy the wrongs and for potential victims to mitigate the risks.

In law, libel is the written communication of a statement that makes a false or deceptive claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may harm the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government or nation. Most jurisdictions allow legal actions, civil and/or criminal, to deter various kinds of defamation and retaliate against groundless criticism. Related to defamation is public disclosure of private facts where one person reveals information which is not of public concern and the release of which would offend a reasonable person. Unlike libel or slander, truth is not a defense for invasion of privacy. [Reference]

Despite the misunderstanding by many Americans, slander and libel (defamation) are not protected forms of free speech under the US First Amendment. [Reference]

Very little has been done to assess the cost or stimulate moves toward equitable judicial reforms to combat internet libelers who are simply low technology cyber stalkers, antagonists, liars, extortionists and emotional terrorists. One well placed blog entry or web site with strategically placed keyword combinations can destroy an individual’s career, or many years of reputation and goodwill for a business. For this unethical and cowardly minority a single blog can mean the end of his or her victim’s career; or the livelihood of  a few people or thousands of families who depend on the continued good standing of their employer in the community. [See my post on what I call "Google's Humility Algorithm"]

Although there is legislation for criminal prosecution of defamation offenders in some U.S. jurisdictions (18 US states), it is almost unheard of. This leaves only civil court action, which is expensive, drawn out, and emotionally draining.

The explosive increase in public hotspots in restaurants, airports and other anonymous Internet connections, makes anonymity easier by the day. Additionally, the third party dissemination and republication of libel can turn reputation problems into a wildfire. This can be particularly damaging if the victim has a unique name or trademark and a low appearance density in search engines. The dilemma is exacerbated further due to the fact that many web sites refuse to take down libelous materials without a court order.

Rumors of your internet anonymity have been greatly exaggerated.

The lie mongers engage in guerrilla tactics and wield their poisonous keystrokes with what they believe to be impunity by hiding behind anonymous user names, guest passes and I.P cloaking solutions. For those of you in these miscreants' sights, they appear impossible to catch; but there is hope!

"Since early 2008 Rexxfield has successfully and positively identified at least 80% of these backbiting miscreants for victimized clients and pro bono hardship cases".

I have had extensive personal experiences with an antagonist who had relentlessly attacked me physically, emotionally, financially and publicly. Free Internet blogs have been the most damaging venues to me as an entrepreneur; in early 2008 I had an agreement in principal with a European angel investment team to fund a start-up venture that I could not grow organically. Within 24 hours of the agreement the angels found my antagonist’s libelous web site and withdrew their offer immediately. A little later, in early April 2008, a $70Million enterprise was enthusiastically engaged in dialogue with me for a partnering venture in the USA… until they found "that web site" and withdrew from the venture. (My antagonist has been jailed subsequently for unrelated matters).

Naturally, the more absurd the assertions the less likely an intelligent and objective observer will be to believe it. However, once that bystander becomes a potential employer or strategic partner the scenario changes drastically. The decision they make about associating with a libel victim will be filtered by the question “what will my customers think?”. If your antagonists are clever, they will cast flaming aspersions against you that are altogether deceptive, but sprinkled with a little truth that, although innocent in its own right, makes the tale all the more believable. This is called "spin" [define spin].

Basic Requirements of a Defamation Case

A defamation plaintiff must usually establish the following elements to recover damages:

Identification The plaintiff must show that the publication was "of and concerning" himself or herself.

Publication The plaintiff must show that the defamatory statements were disseminated to a third party.

Defamatory Meaning The plaintiff must establish that the statements in question were defamatory. For example, the language must do more than simply annoy a person or hurt a person's feelings.

Falsity The statements must be false; truth is a defense to a defamation claim. Generally, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof of establishing falsity.

Statements of Fact The statements in question must be objectively verifiable as false statements of fact. In other words, the statements must be provable as false. (Caveat: Expressions of opinion can imply an assertion of objective facts. See Milkovich v. Lorain Journal.)

Damages The false and defamatory statements must cause actual injury or special damages.

Do not fight fire with fire.

In doing so you are simply going to inspire your antagonist to double his or her efforts. This is even more likely if the offender has a narcissistic or anti-social personality disorder such as the person obsessed with  ruining every aspect of what used to be my very normal and boring life.  By not fighting back you remove the sociopath's source of glee; the air these people breath is the outward manifestation of your torment [Narcissistic Supply].  In the same way a cat will stop playing with a mouse when it plays dead, a sociopath, will grow bored if he or she is unable to elicit painful reactions from a victim. As tempting as it may be to fight back, he best thing you can do with this type of person is humble your pride and opt for a strategic withdrawal; that’s right; DISENGAGE! However, this does not mean you should give up because your reputation will not get any better through inaction. A victim simply needs to be careful and undertake remedial actions "under the radar" thus denying a sociopath his/her reward.  Rexxfield has perfected many ways of achieving these objectives.

My father is a simple but wise man; I remember him once saying of some bullies who taunted and lied about me in grade four “what they say let them say”, I responded, “but some kids believe them!” He replied “the truth will remain the truth no matter how it is believed”. As it turned out I settled the issue with one of the two fights I have had in my life (both under the age of 12); but the fact remains that truth does remain the truth despite what Mr. Plato may think.

A Response to Internet Libel & Smear Campaigns

As mentioned, don’t waste time fighting back; you will only fuel the fire. Seek injunctive relief through the courts by all means if the case is watertight, obvious and potentially affordable. If you can't afford court, try the steps below:

1st step – Give Libel Notice to the Antagonist

Give formal notice to the libeler of his/her libel. This leaves them without excuse should you seek damages through court. You have an obligation to mitigate your damages as it is within your reasonable power to do so. But be careful of the Narcissists described above.

2nd step – Give Libel Notice to the 3rd Party Publisher

Blog and forum owners don’t want to get dragged into a street fight or a court battle (although in the USA and Europe they are generally immune to liability). Although the law is somewhat unclear as to the extent of 3rd party providers and re-publishers of information and differs country to country , I found that in many cases, the site owners quickly removed the anonymous postings made by my antagonist when I provided them with very basic proof of libelous claims. Once they have been formally provided with proof of libel they are often reasonable; there are plenty of jack-assess too.

3rd Step - Dilution is the Key

The best strategy is to push the offensive and libelous material off the first page of Google and as far from the top of the list as practicable. If the libel has already occurred it will be relatively easy to design your response; simply analyze the keyword strategy used by your antagonist and do a better job.

Chances are most people or organizations will not consider an online libel campaign as a serious risk to their future until an enemy has laid siege to their Google ramparts.

Many organizations today are investing heavily in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaigns using internal efforts as well as massive outsourcing contracts with SEO specialists. I strongly suggest that if you are implementing an SEO campaign, do it properly and incorporate an effective libel mitigation strategy. Chances are you can piggyback it on your general SEO marketing strategy for no or little extra cost; it will prove to be a prudent and economical insurance policy. In addition, an SEO vendor who understands the need for potential libel litigation is likely to be a more capable SEO practitioner. Naturally, Rexxfield offers these services too.

For Organizations

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "natural" ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results for targeted keywords. Usually, the earlier a site is presented in the search results or the higher it "ranks", the more will be the searchers visiting that site.

Incorporating libel litigation considerations into SEO often involves using keyword combinations which are not presently important but may be in the future as a result of bad press, smear campaigns, critiques, email chain letters and so forth. The most obvious contingency being the names of key individuals in an organization who may not necessarily have a high public profile now, but may be thrust into the limelight if named (rightly or wrongly) in a scandal, accident or other unfortunate event. Contact us for a complimentary no strings attached consultation....

For Individuals

My personal testimony with regard to online libel is mortifying. The allegations that were leveled against me by my antagonist were heinous, to say the least, and were unfortunately taken seriously by many due to the smoke/fire assumption. I was publicly accused of child abuse, fraud, theft, tax evasion and many other crimes including veiled language suggesting a murder conspiracy. My accuser’s anti-social personality is a matter of record with a trail of chaos, destroyed lives, destroyed careers, two gravestones, and many serious criminal and civil offenses. Notwithstanding, the allegations were taken seriously by many who were not privy to this history. In May 2009 this person was finally arrested for criminal charges in two states and spent 10 nights in a Nebraska jail as a fugitive from justice from Iowa. Criminal trials are still pending at the time of writing.

It had taken me 20+ years to build my resume and reputation. Naturally anyone considering employing, partnering or contracting with an individual in any substantial way is going to “Google him” (gender inclusive). The first search conducted will probably be the person’s name and the name of his or her most recent business or employer. The efficiency, availability and reach of Google and other search engines has in a few short years permitted a person’s enemy to turn the victim’s greatest vocational asset into a liability; that asset being his or her resume or CV. In the case of an innocent victim this is a bad thing but where the allegations do have basis in fact, it is a positive development. I am sure many crimes have been averted due to the dissemination of information about convicted child molesters when they move into new communities, for example.

Invitation

At this time we would like to invite submissions from anyone who has struggled with these issues. We are seeking case studies for a definitive book on Internet libel.

Closing Thought

"Do everything you can to live a quiet life. Mind your own business. Work with your hands, just as we told you to. Then others will have respect for your everyday life. And you won't have to depend on anyone." 1 Thes 4:11-12

DISCLAIMER

This essay should not to be construed as legal, medical or mental health advice. This essay was not authored by or sponsored by an attorney, physician or therapist and is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to express or constitute legal, medical or counseling advice to any reader. No attorney-client relationship between the reader and any attorney is created by the essay, and no reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content in the essay except in reliance upon the advice of a qualified attorney licensed to practice in the reader’s or other applicable jurisdiction. The author is not an attorney or a firm of attorneys and is not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction.

*** US States with Criminal Defamation Penalties

Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, along with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The following states DO NOT have criminal penalties for libel, defamation or slander.  Victims in these states would have to seek civil remedies: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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