Google Bomb: The Untold Story of Sue Scheff and Her $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet
Are you ready to be google bombed? Why you must read Sue Scheff’s story
By Dr. Michele Borba (Parenting Expert and Today Show Contributor)
First off, a little disclosure: a few weeks ago I admit to being absolutely clueless about Sue Scheff’s infamous defamation case. (I know, I know, my head must have been buried in the sand to miss all the news coverage). When I finally did read her story I realized my ignorance was somewhat of an advantage. You see the only Sue Scheff I had known was a parent advocate, a caring friend, and a woman of impeccable integrity. Once I read the cyber nightmare she endured I knew that if this happened to a person such as Sue with such heart and strong character it could happen anyone. It’s also exactly why you must read Google Bomb. So allow me to introduce you to my friend, Sue Scheff and describe what happened to her with hopes it will never happen to you.
Allow Me to Introduce You To My Friend, Sue Scheff
It all started a few months ago when I began using twitter. I loved the ease of connecting and meeting new colleagues, one of whom was a woman named Sue Scheff. It didn’t take much to recognize from her posts that she cared deeply about kids, had a solid pulse on parental concerns and was always willing to offer help to those who asked. She had that “real” quality that you just couldn’t miss. I learned she had authored, Wit’s End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen, and founded a well-acclaimed organization, Parents’ Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) which helped parents find ways to protect their children from destructive influences by educating them about the issues their family faces.
Over time our online relationship became an offline friendship. We talked frequently and in one chat Sue told me her next book, Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet (with John Dozier), was about to be released. I started reading it the moment it arrived and literally couldn’t put it down. I honestly can’t recall the last time I was so intensely moved by a story. It was also the first time I knew Sue had endured what you might call a cyber-nightmare: she had been google bombed.
Google Bomb: Internet slang for a certain kind of attempt to raise the ranking of a given page in results from a Google search. (Wikipedia)
August 2003: Sue Scheff Is Google Bombed
Sue Scheff’s story began on August 2003 when her integrity was first attacked ironically on the very website she created for at-risk teens. The slam was one vicious post from a parent who Sue had tried to help. But within no time that post turned into a full-blown character assassination that went viral. Educational articles and parent resources she wrote to help parents were suddenly laced with unspeakable descriptions defaming Sue’s character. Slanderous posts were now everywhere on the information highway and were impossible to stop, take down or erase. What’s more, if you googled Sue’s name you were detoured from her website and to dozens of porn sites. And the cyber attacks proved deadly offline as well: Sponsors pulled away from her, clients stopped calling, and friends stepped back.
Sue’s reputation as a parent advocate was smeared, her business ruined and her work for children’s destroyed. One woman’s vicious intent to destroy Sue’s credibility and character succeeded with a mere click of a computer key.
Sue’s Fight for Character and Redemption
Sue fought back to defend herself and restore her damaged reputation but at a huge cost—both physically and emotionally. In the next three years I learned she had racked up over $150,000 in legal fees, watched her organization nearly disintegrate, and developed classical symptoms of agoraphobia where Sue could barely leave her home let alone answer her phone. And then hired an attorney and endured a tough legal battle to try and reclaim her reputation.
On September 19, 2006 a Florida jury declared their own outrage and awarded Sue a landmark $11.3 million verdict. That verdict sent a strong warning that destroying lives online would not be tolerated. And right they were.
Cyber attacks have become a growing trend among adults as well as youth and those attacks are destroying lives. The first step to change is knowledge and that’s exactly why I urge you to read Google Bomb. Please read it carefully and then pass it on to others. If this could happen to Sue it could happen just as easily to anyone—including you or your family.
I was on my own person emotional roller coaster reading this book. From complete disbelief: “Is this really the same Sue Scheff?”; to rage: “How could anyone do something like this to another human being!!!?”; to tears: “How did she live through this?” And when I read the final page I actually stood up and cheered. I cheered Sue’s character, grit, and unwavering determination to right a terrible wrong.
Thank you, Sue for having the courage to fight back to defend your reputation and tell your tale. It’s an example to us all.
Aristotle said years ago that the true measure of a person’s character rests in their actions. Your actions speak volumes, my friend.
Michele Borba is the author of 22 books including Big Book of Parenting Solutions which is now available. Follow her on Twitter @MicheleBorba