For victims of online harassment or defamation attacks, the most frustrating aspect of the ordeal is the anonymity of the perpetrators. Online libel (written defamation) is a growing subject of both civil and criminal complaints, and victims often will be unable to pursue any course of legal action without knowing the identity of their attacker. However, finding this information can be difficult to track down, especially if the cyber attack is highly sophisticated and complex.
Defamation is, generally, a false statement of fact (not opinion) that damages one’s reputation and is published either through negligence or with malice. Slander is spoken defamation; since libel is defamation which has been written, libel is the type of defamation experienced over the internet.
Online defamation comes in many forms. Cyber attacks can include false and damaging information being spread over dozens of websites, blogs, forums, and comment sections in such a way that the victim’s reputation is left in tatters. The most debilitating online smear campaigns will include an attacker or attackers anonymously posting false information across the internet specifically to influence the search results of a victim’s name on major search engines.
In many ways, the ability to remain anonymous online is one of the great protections afforded by the First Amendment. However, when conducting an libel campaign against an individual or a business, the perpetrator enjoys no such protection – he or she cannot hide behind the curtain of the internet to escape responsibility. Libel is illegal, even when written by an anonymous blogger or commenter online.
Unfortunately, the victim is almost always left with the responsibility of identifying and exposing their attacker’s identity, a process which can take months in court and cost many thousands of dollars. Through the court system, a victim can subpoena their attacker’s internet service provider (ISP) to reveal the identity of the anonymous writer or poster, but these actions are frequently challenged in court by companies reluctant to hand over user data. So what can be done?
As the number of victims of online libel campaigns has increased, so has the number of private firms and consultants available to take out-of-court action on behalf of victims. These firms employ professionals in the field of information technology and cyber security to take action on behalf of clients who have been victims of internet smear campaigns and begin to fight back against libelous attackers.
By contacting ISPs, webmasters, forum moderators, and major search engines, firms seek to have malicious libelous content removed voluntarily by the responsible party. Rather than risk facing a legal complaint, many sites and companies are more than willing to remove any libelous content for which they may ultimately be held legally accountable.
Frequently, these firms also provide services to bury untrue content on search pages using search engine optimization (SEO) to restore clients’ reputations. Also, some firms offer online reputation management, whereby they ensure protection against any malicious online attacks in the future.
Reputation management firms are becoming a preferred alternative to court proceedings, which can take months to resolve a situation while a reputation is still ruined. These companies offer a quick way to fight back and defend against these campaigns in the future.
Reputation Helper is the collaborative effort of Sozo Firm partnering with certified professionals in digital forensics, counter hacking and IT security. If you or your business is being attacked by online libel, we invite you to fill out our online contact form, and one of our partnering reputation management professionals will be in contact with you as quickly as possible.