The LA Times started last Thursday with a 4 part series on the launching of Google Bomb Book. Today is the official release date! Part one was the dynamic foreward by Michael Fertik, CEO and founder of Reputation Defender. Part two is my turn, and here it is!
Sue Scheff didn’t expect she’d make enemies when she founded the child and parenting advocacy organization PURE. But someone began attacking her on the Internet, posting enough defamatory statements to compel her to bring a lawsuit. She won $11.3 million in 2006.
In this second installment of our exclusive preview of the book “Google Bomb,” (read part 1 here) Brand X brings you Scheff’s story.
Even years later, “Sue Scheff is destroying lives…I want others to know…” still has the impact of a sucker punch I didn’t see coming from the Internet. It was August, 2003 when the first attack on my integrity appeared on a website that focused on programs for at-risk teens, the industry in which I provide services to parents via an organization I founded called PURE. The individual posting was a parent I had actually tried to help after she contacted me for assistance. So, imagine my shock when that first unexpected accusation escalated into a full-blown character assassination.
Threats were made against me and a gang mentality took hold as numerous voices began to chime in. Who were these people? Other than the initiator of the attacks and the website owner, I had no idea. Why did they seem so driven to destroy me and my organization? Again, I was clueless. And I had absolutely no idea how to make this runaway train stop. I didn’t dare make my presence known on the forum for fear of the virtual lynch mob that went after a few well-meaning supporters who tried to intervene on my behalf only to end up like road kill on the Information Highway themselves.
As I continued to watch this whole crazy thing spin beyond damage control, something just as frightening would eventually snake its way into the search engines of Google: If you typed in Sue Scheff it wasn’t my website with educational articles and resources for parents that appeared at first glance. No, because over two pages of initial Google results led to links that took viewers to sites like Sue Scheff’s Red Panties where I was the star of a pornographic discussion. Not exactly what you want your kids or parents to see. As for professional colleagues, they were targets of proximity that risked losing their own credibility unless they kept their distance.
With no other way to defend myself and restore my damaged reputation, in December, 2003, I hired an attorney, David Pollack, who filed a lawsuit in Broward County, Florida against the originator of the attacks. In the next three years I racked up over $150,000 in legal fees and saw my organization nearly disintegrate. I developed classic symptoms of agoraphobia that transformed me from an extrovert who loved working with families, to a depressed recluse who wouldn’t answer the phone and rarely left the home I had mortgaged to the hilt in order to continue litigation.
Victims of Internet defamation and cyberstalking reside in a lonely place in our society. It’s like living in a Leper Colony: Population of One. Make no mistake. This monster is an equal opportunity offender that does not discriminate on the basis of your profession, gender, color, religion, or anything else that we think might set us apart from every other person in life. From lawyers to landscapers, teens to grandparents: No one is immune.
The malicious stroke of a key has become the equivalent of a cyberbullet. Only it’s not just getting fired off into cyberspace, it’s hitting intended targets in very real, physical places. The underbelly of Internet society that aggressively pursues unsuspecting victims, and the lack of legal protection against the invisible trolls who bully and stalk at will, has received a recent spike in public awareness. Good.
We need very real repercussions for violating a reporter’s privacy in a motel room with a peep camera for mass voyeuristic consumption. We need to insist upon a civilized Internet community where good, decent people can no longer be held hostage by a vindictive ex-spouse, a mentally unbalanced customer, or some acquaintance in class that goes by the name of “anonymous.”
After nearly losing my house to pay for my day in court, and nearly losing my sanity as well as my business during the three years it took me to get there, on September 19, 2006, a jury declared their outrage with a landmark $11.3M verdict, a forceful warning that ruining lives with online attacks is wrong and will not be tolerated.
And yet I continue to be stunned by the volume of emails I receive with heartbreaking stories that are as bad, or worse, than my own. The wheels of justice plod slowly in a http://www.world that moves at the speed of thought, the click of a mouse. So as we continue to wait for the courts to catch up with our virtual reality, do you know what Google is saying about you?
– Sue Scheff and Olivia Rupprecht
Part 3 Ready to protect yourself online? OK, let’s get started
Part 4 The top 10 ways to protect yourself from e-venge