Friday, February 27, 2009

Lawsuit Cracks Open Online Anonymity

The Law as an Accomplice

Legal experts, however, emphasized that the law protects Web sites like Topix. Even if the comments are considered defamatory by a court of law, Topix has no legal obligation to take the content down.

Defenders of the legal landscape argue that a change could stifle open discussion and free speech. But others maintain that in stories like this, regardless of who emerges, once the veil of anonymity is lifted, it is the law itself that is a co-conspirator.
"The law as it currently stands is an accomplice because it creates no incentive whatsoever for Web sites to review or police themselves from content that is potentially devastating to real people and real lives," Michael Fertik, a lawyer who specializes in online defamation, told

Part of the problem, Fertik continued, is that laws that made sense at the birth of the Internet age have not matured. It takes years to redress online defamation problems under the present regime. But, in the meantime, libelous comments easily found through search engines can sideline both personal and professional lives.

Although privacy and free speech advocates worry that changes to the law could "chill" online speech, Fertik argued that "the law can easily catch up without destroying speech."
But until then?

"The law provides the red dye for the scarlet letter," Fertik said. "It provides the ink for the tattoo that people create on Web sites like this."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sue Scheff: Reputation Defender Blog

Seeking Alpha recently published the Q4 Earnings Call for the financial website Despite reporting decreased ad revenues and a loss for the three month period, Thomas Clarke did identify new steps that his company was taking to strengthen revenue and brand awareness. Apart from aggressively pursuing increased advertising revenues, the Chief Executive Officer mentioned broadening available content to site readers early in the call.

Quoting from the page:
Our strategic decision a few years ago to further expand our content sets to include a fully array of personal finance information and application to complement our equity focus will continue to be foundations we build upon. With the launch of MainStreet and BankingMyWay and our relationship with Geezeo, today provides users with the information they need across the entire personal finance space in one convenient network. In addition, we continue to add best of breed services such as INSWEB, ReputationDefender, and [Money Owl] to allow those interested to take action, further bolstering our performance revenue stream.

ReputationDefender CEO Michael Fertik recently wrote an article about the online reputational risks professionals, students and companies are now facing. ReputationDefender is proud to be the leader in the online reputation management space and works to mitigate reputational risk online.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Don't Let the Web Kill What You Love by Michael Fertik

By Michael Fertik

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Warren Buffett said that, before the invention of the Internet. Now, in the information age, the statement has never been more truthful. That is why I started a business, ReputationDefender, that is all about protecting reputations.

Your good name, and the reputations of your family, business, and everything you love, is valuable. So, when your neighbor, a customer, or a love interest plugs your name into a search engine, what will they find?

Anyone can come along and slam you online and if that happens, search results for your name might be dominated by negative, incomplete, or even false information. A hostile online comment might represent the uncommon experience of a dissatisfied customer or disgruntled neighbor, but due to the structure of search engines, that single opinion can be greatly amplified and made to look like a universal point of view. You might fall victim to the sniping of an anonymous blogger or even a competitor posing as an angry customer.

It’s not only easy to publish half-truths, innuendo, and falsehoods on the Internet, it’s also easy to make them stick. Many people who publish negative web content know how to make it maximally destructive. Lies, rumors, or memes take flight easily, getting repeated, added to, and generally magnified. Even though some of these narratives are discovered to be false, very few of them get debunked as loudly as they are broadcasted in the first place. As a result, false content often becomes more visible on the web than, say, well-researched articles from reputable news sources. It might seem illogical that bogus speculation can end up dominating searches for you, but that’s how a rumor mill works.

A great strength of the Internet is that it gives everyone a voice. That’s also one of its dangers: it can endow fraudsters and idle speculators with the appearance of authority.

The danger is real. This does not mean you should stop using the Internet. It means that you must proactively establish your accurate and positive presence on the web before there is a problem. You need to maximize your control over what people find about you, before someone else does it for you.

There are options. Companies have developed software solutions for online reputation protection. ReputationDefender, which is now a partner with network, is my company, and we do just that.

Michael Fertik is the Founder and CEO of ReputationDefender, the online reputation management and privacy company.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sue Scheff: Hate Websites and Teens

As someone that is familiar with hate websites/sites since I was a victim of them, they are nothing short of malicious attacks intended to hurt others. I always go back to my favorite Blog about these many types of people who seemingly take pride in harming others, The Top Ten Blogger Personas - The Mobosphere Unveiled by John Dozier. My next book, due out in fall 2009, will cover this subject in detail. Whether you are a business owner, husband, wife, teacher, professional - you need to be aware of your online presence - Internet Gossip vs Internet Fact - how do you know?

Connect with Kids offers some valuable tips for parents to help keep their kids safe in space. Unfortunately trying to keep up with the Internet can be difficult, however we need to communicate with our kids about ugliness that can lurk online.

“Hate, unfortunately – it’s a virus. There’s been racism, anti-Semitism. There’s been discrimination against people throughout the ages. The Internet just provides an instant tool and access to it.”

– Deborah Lauter, Anti-Defamation League

By some estimates, 70 million kids are logging onto the Internet every day, and many are viewing sites that are increasingly disturbing.

Jesse Granger, 15, says, “I’ve come across hate websites. There was one about the Ku Klux Klan, and it had a lot of pictures of recent parades and marches.”

Sixteen-year-old Quincy Kelly saw a web site that “was talking about how slaves should be happy that they got brought over to America from Africa.”

Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League has been monitoring these sites for years. “Hate, unfortunately – it’s a virus,” she says. “There’s been racism, anti-Semitism. There’s been discrimination against people throughout the ages. The Internet just provides an instant tool and access to it.”

It’s also a sophisticated tool, especially in terms of attracting young web surfers.

Lauter says, “Some of the [hate] websites actually have games for children. The websites are attractive visually. There are puzzles, word games – it’s pretty sick when you look at them.”
And kids don’t even have to be looking for them to inadvertently access them.

“A perfect example would be a student doing Internet research and they plug in something as simple as ‘Martin Luther King,’ which is a very typical one. And some of these racist websites will be accessed and a kid could go on and start researching and think what’s there is fact,” says Lauter.

That’s where parents come in, she says, to make sure their kids are aware.

“[Children] need to understand to look at things critically,” says Lauter. “They need to understand that not everything on the Internet or everything they read is the truth.” And as kids become more sophisticated and Internet savvy, they will learn to weed out fiction from fact.
Matthew Burnett, 14, agrees. “If you use your common sense you can see through most of it,” he says.
And 15-year-olds Kelly Raines and Rebecca Turner say, “I think that if people are going to put that on, they’re going to put that on. And it’s just a matter of whether you take it, or like, just be like, ‘that’s stupid.’ I’m not going to worry about that.”

Tips for Parents

The Internet has opened the door to a wealth of information at our fingertips. But it has also brought instant accessibility to illegal drugs, pornography, hate websites and more. It’s important to set guidelines regarding your child’s Internet usage. Consider these important steps from the University of Oklahoma police department:

Learn about the Internet – If you are just starting out, see what information and classes are offered by your local library, community center, schools or newspaper.

Get Involved – Spend time online with your child — at home, at the library or at a computer center in your community. Your involvement in your child’s life includes his/her online life. Your participation and guidance is important to help ensure your child’s Internet safety.

Stay Informed – Learn about the latest parental control tools that can help you keep your child safe online. Stay abreast of what’s in the news about kids and web sites.

Become an Advocate for Kids – If you see online material or practices you do not like, contact your Internet Service Provider (the company that provides you with a connection to the Internet) or the company that created the material. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to help this growing medium develop in positive ways for kids.

According to, there are steps you can take to help prevent your child from seeing inappropriate content on the Internet. Consider the following suggestions:

In an online public area such as a chat room or bulletin board, never give out identifying information, including name, home address, school name or telephone number.

In an email, do not give out identifying information unless you are certain you are giving it to someone both you and your child know and trust. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status or financial information. Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child’s name if your service allows it.

Get to know the sites and services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, have your child show you. Find out what types of information the services and websites offer, how trustworthy the information is and if parents can block objectionable material.

Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission.

Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear people over the Internet, it is easy for them to misrepresent themselves. For example, someone who says he/she is an expert in a certain field may actually be a biased individual with an agenda or someone with harmful intentions.

Not everything you read online is true. Be wary of any offers that require you to come to a meeting or have someone visit your house. Also, research several different sources of information before referring to something you read on the Internet as “fact.”

Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use. Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your kids’ compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s or teenager’s excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may indicate a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.

Make computers a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know your children’s “online friends” just as you do their other friends.

Federal Bureau of Investigation
National Center for Health Statistics
Smart Parent
The Police Notebook
The University of Illinois