Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sue Scheff: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


As the kids get older, Christmas becomes different - now I am blessed with a grandchild, and of course, as all grandparents think - the most beautiful one..... Life is definitely wonderful! All the bumps and turmoil brings us to where we are today since life is not perfect.


2008 will bring my first book - "Wit's End!" published by Health Communications Inc. In January I will be announcing my second book with HCI that will continue to help people in today's sometimes crazy world and the issues we are faced with today..... I will announce it very shortly.


Merry Christmas to all and take the time to enjoy your loved ones - family and friends.....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sue Scheff: Net Users Wake Up To Price of Indiscretion by Emma Page


New Zealanders are employing "reputation protection" companies to eliminate inappropriate content about them on internet sites such as Facebook, fearing it could damage their employment or dating prospects.


Dubbed "digital housekeeping", the online clean-up is one of the issues trend-spotters say will emerge in 2008 as the public wakes up to the potential dangers of social sites, blogs and online reviews.

American company Reputation Defender is spearheading the trend and has five Kiwi customers on its books. Director Michael Fertik says four of them are paying the company US$9.95 a month to undertake detailed internet searches hunting for inappropriate, hurtful or inaccurate information and negotiating its removal if required.

Fertik says customers mainly use the service to ensure they impress employers who routinely check social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace before going ahead with job interviews. But many clients are also concerned about potential dates digging up dirt that could damage a blossoming relationship.

In New Zealand, recruitment agencies are running online background searches.

"It's becoming incredibly common," says Julie Cressey, organisational development manager for Madison Recruitment. Facebook is one of the common sites her agency checks, using it to see who potential employees network with.

Cressey says expressing your personality online is fine but the red flag comes out for those posting "inappropriate photos" or making "outlandish commentary".

New Zealand-based public speaker and author of Reputation Branding Hannah Samuel says people need to be educated about the long-term effects of internet content especially young people and their parents, who are often blissfully unaware of the real consequences of the virtual world.

Internet users can at least control what sites they join and what they post about themselves.

Samuel's checklist includes asking how parents, employers or a potential life partner would feel about the material and: "would I cringe in embarrassment or be ashamed if it appeared again?"

But once material is online, removing it becomes difficult.

"Nothing is secret and whatever you put out there can stay out there forever," says Eaden McKee, director of web development company Webforce.

Fertik says Reputation Defender staff have a "broad suite of solutions available", from asking for content to be removed to legal action.

And internet users are taking the initiative themselves, in some cases voluntarily shutting down their online profiles. In what has been dubbed "Facebook suicides", some Facebook users leave notes or give their friends one final "poke" before leaving their profiles behind. The Facebook Mass Suicide Club website says: "Fed up with Facebook? Don't like having your info shared with the world? ... Have you ever thought about just deleting your account and freeing yourself? If Facebook is controlling and consuming your life then this is a group for you."

McKee says individuals or businesses can use Google Alerts to notify them when any relevant material is posted.

But experts agree the best protection is not posting inappropriate pictures or comments in the first place.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sue Scheff Applauding the Hard Work of Reputation Defender and MyEdge


In today's crazy world of Cyberspace - it can be a free-for-all to literally destroy longstanding reputable people and organizations with a stroke of a keypad. With this, priceless services like Reputation Defender have become in demand.

As a client of Reputation Defender, I can personally attest to their remarkable services as well as their compassion to help people that are being harmed via the Internet.

I was a victim of Internet Defamation and now a survivor of it - not only because I won an unprecedented $11.3 Million jury verdict for damages, but because I fought back!

I am not a spokesperson for Reputation Defender, but I am certainly a very satisfied client and completely amazed at their dedication to keep the Internet a safe place for everyone. For those that believe that it is about hiding the ugly, think again - Reputation Defender is selective and does their due diligent. I am proud to be their client. When I went public about retaining this service, it was a difficult decision - but in the end, I realized my voice has helped so many others as well as received the attention of Congress to hopefully make some leglislative changes to promote Internet Safety.

As a Parent Advocate, I am impressed with their latest service - MyChild which can help protect your kids identity and more. With today's tragedies online - as parents we need to take any and all pre-cautions to keep our children safe.

Read more about Reputation Defender. Click Here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sue Scheff: New Websites to Help Parents with At Risk Teens

As a Parent Advocate I believe in keeping parents informed and up to date on today's teens the the issues they face.

I have recently launched two new websites to bring you more information on the following subjects:

Teen Suicide and Teen Criminal Mischief

Monday, December 3, 2007

Sue Scheff: Rising Above Internet Defamation and Fighting Back! New Legal Doors are Opening


Fighting against Internet Defamation can be an uphill battle - but there is finally light coming through. I meet with a Florida Senator for our second meeting and a very prominent lawyer joined us.

Free Speech will always be in place, but it will not allow defamation or reckless regard for the truth.

I will continue to be a voice in this arena and hopefully you will see some major changes and new legal avenues and ACTION soon.

Stay tuned - there is much more coming.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sue Scheff and Parent's Universal Resource Experts: Advocating for Parents and Being a Voice Against Internet Abuse


Happy Thanksgiving to all and we have many things to be grateful for. My family as well as families throughout the country will be celebrating this day of gratitude.

Proudly, my organization continues to help people throughout the world as well as my continuous fight to help those that are being abused in Cyberspace.

With the help of wonderful services such as Reputation Defender, who I am personally thank for their hard work, there are many new legal doors opening that I want to thank. This will help keep the Internet a safe place. We have a long way to go, however the fact that prominent people are stepping forward to help means there will be positive movement.

With the recent tragic stories of teens on MySpace and more, it is time to step up and be that voice.

On this holiday of gratitude, it is also a time to reflect and move forward to continue to help and share with others. I have endured the wrath of people obsessed with me, my daughter's fight to survive a program that was not what was promised, as well two major victorious jury trials. This has given me the strength to continue to move forward and upward.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sue Scheff: Rising Above Internet Defamation!


THE FIGHT AGAINST INTERNET DEFAMATION STRENGTHENS! As attorney's and judges are reviewing these cases, the recognition for action is loud and clear. Fight back - it is your right!

Recently I have personally meet with both a prominent Senator and a well-know attorney. Both were completely astonished at the reckless regard for the truth that lingers on the Internet and agree, it is time to fight back!

More and more lawyers are considering these cases on a contingency basis. Free Speech will not condone defamation and it has become more clear that there is a blatant disregard and lack of respect for the first amendment right.

I am proud to be part of this movement to help other victims that will rise above people that believe free speech will protect them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sue Scheff and Parent's Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) Responds to the GAO Study on Residential Treatment Programs


A letter from Sue Scheff (Founder of Parent's Universal Resource Experts – P.U.R.E)

In recent news, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has conducted a study revealing concerns about abuse and deaths in certain programs for struggling teens.

At P.U.R.E. we are deeply touched by the publicized reports, which found thousands of cases involving abuse and even death at facilities licensed to help troubled teens. This reality hit home with my daughter and myself and inspired me to create Parent's Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) My organization helps to educate parents that are searching for safe alternatives for their children as well as create awareness in an industry that can be daunting for the desperate parent.

I offer sympathy to the families that have been affected by any ill treatment and as always, would like to encourage all parents considering this level of care to take the necessary steps to ensure your child's safety and well-being. There are many excellent programs designed to help teens in crisis, but not all are created equal. It is imperative that parents take an active approach in seeking the most suitable program for their individual needs of their child. As stated on my website, these questions to ask and helpful hints in assisting you to find the best program for your child.

It is certainly frightening to hear about the teen fatalities and incidents of abuse at Residential Treatment Centers and Wilderness Programs, but I am grateful for the media attention that this matter is finally receiving. I am joined by other industry professionals who are hopeful that this increased awareness resulting from these hearings will propel a trend for improvement within our industry. I strongly support any legislation, both state and federal, that will enhance the safety and treatment of at-risk teens. I intend to be active in the development of such policy and work with the GAO.

For more information on the recent GAO report, visit http://www.gao.gov/.

Sincerely,
Sue Scheff
Founder of Parent's Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.)
Author of "Wit's End!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sue Scheff and Michael Fertik on Fox News Morning Show with Mike and Juliet


Today Sue Scheff and Michael Fertik (Reputation Defender) appeared on the Fox News Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.

The discussion of Internet Defamation is growing larger and expanding throughout the country. Free Speech will always have its' place on the Internet, however it doesn't condone defamation. Libelous comments can be held accountable as in the Sue Scheff vs Carey Bock case.

A jury deliberated for several hours over the slanderous and libelous posts and found damages in the amount of $11.3M. Currently, after Carey Bock Levine was denied to have the judgement set aside, the garnishment of her wages will start shortly.

Mike and Juliet are excellent hosts and understand that this issue is a growing concern today.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sue Scheff: IBSL Internet Law - News Portal: Internet Law Internet Defamation

The law of Defamation has come under renewed scrutiny with the advent of the Internet. This is largely because it is the nature of the Internet to give the average, anonymous person an opportunity to express their opinion well-beyond any previously defined venue. Consider the fact that a person of modest means now has the ability to publish a statement, article, or news item across the world in an instant, without an editor checking the facts. Thereafter, the item will linger on the 'Net for months, or even years, impossible to recover and amend, if the "facts" are erroneous. Therefore, it is inevitable that problems are going to arise.

The main issue to remember when dealing with the Internet is that people still have their basic legal rights intact on the Net, and - likewise - the Internet is not as completely anonymous as the typical person may presumes.

What is Defamation?

The law of defamation has been defined in the West for centuries, and the Internet variety holds to that same basic outline with a few twists. Defamation is the act of making an untrue statement to a third party that damages the subject's reputation. There are several subcategories of Defamation, being Libel and Slander. Libel is Defaming in a printed forum, such as a newspaper or magazine. Slander is spoken Defamation, and could be made person-to-person, or also broadcast over a radio or television.

Technically, Defamation actionable at law follows this schema:

1. A false and defamatory statement regarding another;
2. Unprivileged publication of the claim to a third party;
3. Rising, in the case of matters of public concern, to at least negligence by the publisher, or worse; and
4. Damages to the subject.

Generally, persons defined as "Public Figures," have a higher threshold in proving someone committed Defamation against them; that is, the statement must have been made maliciously. There are also four subjects that if falsely dispersed as a fact about another person, are actionable on their face: Attacking a person's professional character /standing; Alleging an unmarried person is unchaste; Claims a person is infected with a sexually transmitted, or loathsome disease; Claims a person has committed a crime of moral turpitude.

Is Internet Defamation Defined as Slander, Libel or Both?

Until the recent development of "podcasts," and other types of online videos such as those featured on YouTube, Defamation on the Internet was largely deigned Libel. But whether an online case of accused Defamation should fall under either category of Libel or Slander will not be nearly as meaningful as whether the activity satisfies the basic Defamation criteria, as defined above. What is most important is to focus upon the actual statement, whether verbal or written, that a plaintiff claims is defamatory.A recently filed case illustrates the application of a libel claim in a blogging case in NY, Stuart Pivar v. Seed Media, 2007cv07334, Filed August 16, 2007, in New York Southern District Court. Seed Media pays PZ Myers to blog at ScienceBlogs.com, and there he reviewed a book by Dr. Stuart Pivar, called "LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization" which purports to reconfigure Darwinian Evolution.
Myers claimed Pivar is a "classic crackpot" on his http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula website.

In response, the lawsuit complaint states, "Myer's defamatory remarks were made with actual malice; Myers called Plaintiff "a classic crackpot" fully knowing that statement to be false as a statement of fact and in reckless disregard of the truth about Plaintiff because Myer's knew full well, the time of publishing his defamatory statement that no scientist holding the international reputation of any of Hazen, Sasselov, Goodwin or Tyson would endorse or review the work of a crackpot."

The complaint claims Myers caused "considerable mental and emotional distress," tortious interference with the plaintiff's business relationships as a "scientist and scientific editor," and "loss of book sales and diminished returns on ten years of funded scientific research in special damages" exceeding $5 million.The suits asks for: declaratory relief to remove defamatory statements from the web and an injunction to block further libel; $5 million in special damages for "tortious interference with business relations"; and $10 million in damages for defamation, emotional distress, and loss of reputation.This lawsuit well illustrates the libelous cause, effect and damages of a proper tort case based upon defamation.

Can a Blog Be Sued for Defamation; Isn't It All Free Speech?

This is a knotty issue, but a short answer would be, generally, that a blog owner whose blog has published obnoxious materials can be held harmless while a blogger using the site can be liable. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 is a protector of blog owners. It states, in section 230, that it "precludes courts from entertaining claims that would place a computer service provider in a publisher's role." As to how the court sees blogs, in general, overall, the US Supreme Court has ruled that blogs are similar to news groups, saying "in the context of defamation law, the rights of the institutional media are no greater and no less than those enjoyed by other individuals and organizations engaged in the same activities."

For bloggers, all Defamation legal rules apply to their posts. But there are many complications in applying them. First, many people who post online comments, and probably those tending to make the most inflammatory and false statements, will do so anonymously, for obvious reasons. So the first threshold is identifying the blogger making Defamatory claims. Several things make this difficult, as well. Since the blogger probably will not identify themselves when the issue comes to light, there needs to be a legal process that allows identification. They can be traced by high-tech means, but a court must agree via summary judgment that all the elements of Defamation have been met. This technology does have some limits, as well, as it can be stymied through use of "Proxies," which mask the true origin of the blogger. Also, the website owner may not cooperate in the search, as well.

A recent case showed how powerful Defamation laws, applied online, can be. In November 2006, a Florida woman, Sue Scheff, was awarded $11.3 million in damages in Broward County Circuit Court, in one of the biggest awards ever tolled. The suit was filed for Internet defamation, and the jury found a Louisiana woman had posted caustic messages against the Scheff and her company, claiming she was a "con artist" and "fraud". The jury found the charges were completely false, so the Louisiana woman had no defense. Interestingly, Scheff's attorney had offered to settle the case for $35,000 before it went before the jury.

[Reference 1][Reference 2][Reference 3]

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sue Scheff and P.U.R.E.'s Blog


Recently I have been updating posting informational articles on parenting teens and today's teen issues. Click here.

There are a variety of articles from different media outlets on subjects such as teen depression, bullying, teen suicide and more.

As a parent advocate, being an educated parent can help your through the adolescent years.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Blog of Sue Scheff and P.U.R.E.


Be sure to check out the Book Reviews for parents, I will be adding to it frequently. Many parents want to share what has helped them, so this is a good starting point.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sue Scheff and P.U.R.E. - Parents Helping Prevent Teen Drug Use


Parents are the #1 Reason Kids Don't Do Drugs... Empower Your Teen To Say "NO" To Peer Pressure!

Recently a parent shared this new resource to help other parents determine if their teens are using substances. To find out more click here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sue Scheff Continuing to advocate for parents...

As P.U.R.E. goes into an 8th year of helping parents and families, I am very proud that I have been able to be touch so many lives.

This past year has been the most incredible year but 2008 will be the best with the release of my first book - Wit's End! It is so exciting and already there are many requests.

I have been interviewed with many prestigious and reputable journalists and the experiences have been so fantastic. Being able to be a voice against Internet Defamation as well as a Parent Advocate is where I am right now. Being slandered on the Internet is not fun, but helping parents that are desperate is very rewarding - so I am so fortunate to be where I am.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sue Scheff Introduces Book Reviews

I just wanted to let you know I started a new Blog about books that are brought to my attention that either I have read or parents are recommending for other parents.

Click here to read more about it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Introducing the New Website of Reputation Defender/MyEdge


As a Parent Advocate and a victim of Internet Defamation - I turned to Reputation Defender not only for myself, but for parents that have teens and kids on MySpace and other Internet Forums.

Monitoring your child's online profile can help you prevent them from getting hurt on the Internet. Today's society can cause a lot of distress with people online defaming, slandering and harassing - especially kids. Protect your family online - check out the new website of Reputation Defender for "my child."

Since I have disclosed I retained Reputation Defender, there will always be people that want to dispute their services - however when you have the truth on your side, and understand that Reputation Defender is not about erasing who you are - but rather about bringing the truth to light.

With many businesses and organizations - there will always be people that don't agree with you or simply you can't satisfy all clients and customers.

I certainly am not perfect and I have made plenty of mistakes - that is why my upcoming book - "Wit's End!" will not only share my mistakes, they will help you to learn from them.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sue Scheff Wins $11.3M Jury Verdict - Internet Defamation Case


With this unprecedented jury verdict (not a default verdict) of $11.3M - comes more slander!

If you are reading ugly and malicious information about me, you can understand why. The defendant - Carey Bock - who attempted to get the judgement set aside - was denied with a strong order set down by the Judge.

She is being held liable for the defamation and invasion of privacy she created to myself and my family.

I have also received a mass amount of media attention from prominent news outlets such as 20/20 ABC News i-Caught, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Forbes and more.

All these reputable journalist did their due diligence on my case.

Freedom of speech is here to stay - Defamation is not acceptable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blog of Sue Scheff and PURE

Whatever can hurt you the worst, has the equivalent power to help you the most.

For all those that have written me of their stories of Internet Harassment and Abuse - I received this in my email today. It is worth passing on to everyone.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Blog of PURE and Sue Scheff

Just a quick note of thanks to all the people that have emailed me about my story on 20/20 ABC News i-Caught.

I appreciate all your notes and I am overwhelmed at the amount of abuse that is on the Internet. Personally, I will always have my critics, as many people that are making a difference have, but being able to speak out and help others has been rewarding.

Thanks again to all that wrote. A special thanks to Micheal Fertik and the team at Reputation Defender and MyEdge for helping me to come forward and speak out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sue Scheff & Michael Fertik on 20/20 ABC News i-Caught!


Tuesday, August 14th, 2007 - Sue Scheff and Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation Defender were featured on 20/20 ABC News new series - i-Caught. Sitting down with renown Journalist, Martin Bashir, Sue Scheff and Michael Fertik share the seriousness of maintaining your Online Profile and fighting malicious and online attacks.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Today Show with Reputation Defender CEO Michael Fertik

On Friday, August 10th - Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation Defender was featured on The Today Show on NBC. His service to help people monitor their online profiles and reputations has become a priceless service for many people that are becoming victims of Internet ugliness.

Reputation Defender is not about chilling your first amendment right, it is about bringing the truth to the top! Unfortunately there are people that want to hurt others and their new weapon is using Cyberspace to literally attempt to ruin others with a few keystrokes.

Personally, I am a client of Reputation Defender and hold them in the highest regard. Recently I won an unprecedented case of $11.3M in a jury trial for damages for Internet Defamation and Invasion of Privacy. Since this victory - the campaign to discredit and destroy me as escalated since some extremist believe the First Amendment allows them to defame others. The First Amendment does not condone defamation.

I was a victim "Caught in the Net" of destruction and harassment, but thanks to Michael Fertik and his team at Reputation Defender and MyEdge - things are getting better.

Of course, there will always be people that can beat them - but in the end, the truth always prevails - as mine did more than once.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sue Scheff & Michael Fertik on the BBC

Sue Scheff and Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation Defender, recently were on the BBC and NPR Talk Radio with Dan Damon.

The National and International attention that ReputationDefender is attracting is due to the overwhelming use of slander and defamation on the Internet. With today's Cyberspace world - more people will Google others to get information about them. It is critical to monitor your online reputation.

Like Identity Theft, this can be devastating and potentially ruin businesses and people's lives.

As a victim of Internet Defamation, I have decided to share my success story after the horrors of slander, defamation and invasion of privacy I endured.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Sue Scheff Interviewed by the Washington Post - Cover Story

Calling In Pros to Refine Your Google Image

By Susan Kinzie and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, July 2, 2007; A01

At the height of the cyber-abuse, Sue Scheff, a consultant to parents of troubled teens, would type her name in a Google search box and brace herself: Up would pop page after page of attack postings.

Sue Scheff is destroying lives. She is a con. She takes kickbacks. She is the biggest fraud there ever was.

The stream of negative comments began in 2002 after a woman who had sought advice from Scheff turned on her. The postings appeared on PTA Web sites in Florida, where Scheff lives. On bulletin boards and online forums. There were even YouTube videos threatening her.

She sued for defamation and won an $11.3 million verdict, but the attacks only got worse. In December, Scheff turned to ReputationDefender, a year-old firm that promised to help her cleanse her virtual reputation. She no longer dreads a Google search on her name. Most of the links on the all-important first page are to her own Web site and a half-dozen others created by ReputationDefender to promote her work on teen pregnancy and teen depression.

"They created Sue-Scheff.net," she said. "They created SueScheff.net. They created SueScheff.org. . . . They created my MySpace account, for God's sake. I didn't know how to do any of this stuff."

Google's ubiquity as a research tool has given rise to a new industry: online identity management. The proliferation of blogs and Web sites can allow angry clients, jealous lovers or ruthless competitors to define a person's identity. Whether true or not, their words can have far-reaching effects.

Charging anything from a few dollars to thousands of dollars a month, companies such as International Reputation Management, Naymz and ReputationDefender don't promise to erase the bad stuff on the Web. But they do assure their clients of better results on an Internet search, pushing the positive items up on the first page and burying the others deep.
Still, Google is continually refining its search methods, which means that today's fix may not work tomorrow.

"This is a game that nobody can completely win," said Chris Dellarocas, a University of Maryland information systems professor.

Dodging Mudballs

The e-mails from friends started showing up three years ago in the Washington lobbyist's in-basket:

Have you seen this?

Over decades in the capital, she had developed a thick skin. But after she took on a foreign regime as a client, an online magazine bashed her. The story was factual, but the tone nasty. Then a blogger wrote that she slept with someone to get a big contract. A political blog posted an e-mail she ha d written about secret campaign strategy . Truth mixed with rumor. Rumor mixed with lies.

Concerned friends sent her the links. Potential clients would say they had read about her on the Web .

Like Scheff, she realized that the items that made her cringe came up high on the Google results page and stayed there, month after month. Her firm depe nded on her reputation. The lobbyist would speak only on condition of anonymity because she did not want the attacks to resume.
"There's no policing, no rules, no standards," she said. Bloggers are "cowboys," she said. "It's the wild, wild West."

Then one day she heard a talk by Nino Kader, founder of International Reputation Management (IRM) in Washington. His new company, he said, could reshape a person's online image.
She signed up.

IRM aims to get lots of information out there about clients, in various places, so that a search gives a more complete and nuanced profile of who they are. Kader started with a printout of the top 100 hits on a Google search and went through them one by one, asking whether individual results -- such as her campaign contributions -- were good, bad or neutral.

He asked what she wanted the world to know about her. Then he started digging for good things, like an op-ed piece she had written and television interviews she had given that he could post on YouTube. He pitched stories about her to various publications. And he created links from popular sites to those online stories to entice the search engine.

Now her firm's Web site is the first result and other good ones follow.

Still, a story she hates remains on the first page.

"I'm in the early stages," she said. "I've already seen progress."

Companies like IRM try to outthink Google. Search engines comb the Web with complex and ever-shifting algorithms, evaluating relevance and authority by looking at many factors: Is this a government Web site? How many people have linked to it? And so on.

The point is, said ReputationDefender founder Michael Fertik, "Google's not in business to give you the truth, it's in business to give what you think is relevant."

The goal is to get Google and other search engines to seize on relevant sites that contain positive information on their clients and to downplay the rest.

Google does not object in principle to people adding positive content to outrank the negative. But a spokeswoman said in an e-mail, "if you use spammy and manipulative techniques to get this positive content to rank highly, we may take action on it."

Some companies create promotional Web pages for their clients with coding that makes them appealing to Google or create blog pages linking to the client's own site, ensuring they'll rise to the top.

Image Makeover

Geoffrey VanderPal knew politics was a nasty game, but the candidate for Nevada state treasurer wasn't prepared for the blog attacks. Supporters of his opponent posted charge after charge. He briefly considered suing.

But many of his tormentors were anonymous. And U.S. courts have generally protected Web site hosts from civil actions such as defamation, though that may be changing. Besides, he knew as a public figure he'd have a higher burden to prove libel.

When VanderPal lost the Democratic primary last August, he returned to private life as a financial planner. But the blog postings lived on, prominently, at the top of the Google results page. Potential clients avoided him.

He wanted to suppress the negative information about him, both true and false, so he turned to ReputationDefender.

The firm at first tried a low-tech approach: a polite request to a blogger to remove a post about his personal finances. But the blogger declined, saying the item was a matter of public record. Asking politely has backfired in a small number of cases, Fertik said, with Webmasters sometimes posting and mocking the requests.

So Fertik's team, which works from a Silicon Valley office, offered VanderPal its premium service, using various techniques to promote VanderPal's own site and suppress the blogs. That service now starts at $10,000.

Within weeks, VanderPal began to see "a remarkable difference." Though a few nasty comments are still up there, the first three pages are mostly clean.

"Everything's wrapped up in your reputation," said VanderPal, 34. "If you don't have that, you don't have much."

The reputation firms won't take on everyone. Fertik says ReputationDefender won't work with clients who want to suppress violent crimes, for example.

The clients the firms accept are varied: a real estate mogul wanting to move past a decade-old transgression, a prominent academic falsely accused of murder, a hedge fund manager who doesn't like seeing his old New York Times wedding announcement on Google years after he divorced and remarried, a college student who regretted once dressing up as a prostitute at a Halloween party.

Then there was the businessman who paid a Securities and Exchange Commission fine a few years ago.

"Does a person in this situation have a chance to start again?" Fertik asked. "Should this be the first or second thing that shows up on the Internet? Is it fair?"

ReputationDefender decided to work with him.

Staff researcher Bob Lyford contributed to this report.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sue Scheff: Reputation Defender and MyEdge


Reputation Defender and MyEdge is a service that is priceless in an age where a few keystrokes can literally destroy years of a reputable buisiness or person.

Forbes, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Orlando Sentinel, New York Post and many other major news outlets have featured Reputation Defender and their unique services.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sue Scheff - Interviewed by Forbes.com

InternetGoogle-Proof PR?
Andy Greenberg, 05.25.07, 6:00 AM ET

Sue Scheff's business, Parents Universal Resource Experts, places troubled teens in reform schools--and generates a lot of controversy. Disgruntled clients have accused Scheff's company of sending kids to abusive programs, and the Web is full of complaints: A quick Google search used to reveal sites describing her as a "fraud," a "con artist" and a "crook."

Google Scheff's name now, however, and the first few pages of results are far less controversial: They include Scheff's own sites about teen pregnancy, her upcoming book, and, until recently, recipes for broccoli casserole and pork chops.

That last one might seem strange to Scheff's friends, who know she doesn't cook. "The truth is, if it doesn't go in the microwave, I don't make it," she admits.
Related Stories:Grading Google

So who wrote the cooking advice at sue-scheff.net? Not Sue Scheff. That site, and many of the others in the first several pages of Sue Scheff's Google results, were designed by a company called Reputation Defender, which sells what its founder, Michael Fertik, calls "Google insulation." For a fee, Reputation Defender pads the Web with friendly-sounding content like flattering blog entries, personal sites and other positive pages, and then pushes those sites to the top of the Google results for clients like Scheff, thereby hiding the online insults of her enemies.

And there's plenty of vitriol to hide. In 2004, she filed a defamation lawsuit against one of her critics, Carey Bock, in a Florida state court. Scheff won an $11.3 million verdict last year, but some negative commentary remained on the Web. Scheff says those comments were ruining her business, driving away more than half of her customers. "She had just slandered me up one side and down the other side of the Internet," Scheff says.

So Scheff turned to Reputation Defender. Founded last October, the company says it monitors what's written about clients online for a monthly $10 fee and will have specific content "destroyed" for an extra $30. The removal of content usually involves polite take-down requests that occasionally escalate into cease-and-desist letters and legal threats when necessary, says the company's chief executive, Michael Fertik.

But Reputation Defender recently began offering users a subtler approach: hiding unwanted Web comments with a barrage of positive, Google-friendly content, either created by the company or dredged up from elsewhere on the Web and optimized to appear at the top of search-engine results.

"Say you have 20,000 delighted clients and five clients that hate you," says Fertik. "We'll tell your story on the Internet and find press about you and start promoting that to the top of the Google chain. It's very Internet-specific PR, a very different game." For that labor-intensive service, officially called MyEdge, the company charges a hefty price: Fees start at around $10,000. Fertik says he has more than 25 clients for the service.

MyEdge's success is based not only in creating reputation-boosting pages but also in convincing Google to float those sites to the first few pages of results, the only results that most Web users ever see. But gaming Google can be tricky. The search giant, which declined to comment on Reputation Defender's service, spends significant resources trying to prevent Web site owners from pushing up their ranking artificially. And it will punish sites it thinks are cheating by pushing them into the back pages of search results. (see "Condemned To Google Hell").

Fertik won't reveal the details of MyEdge's tactics, but he says he's confident they don't break Google's rules or those of any other search engine. He also says his company draws the line at publishing lies about individuals or businesses--the cooking site created for Sue Scheff, he says, was an unfortunate exception, one that he removed after talking to this reporter. But Fertik sees nothing wrong with manipulating Google to focus on the positive aspects of someone's persona.

"Google is not God," he says. "It's a machine, a superb machine that benefits millions, but it's still just a machine. And what it turns up can have remarkably deleterious impact on hardworking people and businesses."

Some might still argue that MyEdge misleads Web users or that it muzzles them by hiding negative opinions. But Kevin Bankston, an attorney at the Internet free-speech advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sees MyEdge as a healthy alternative to the usual angry-lawyer school of reputation management.

"As long as they're not committing some kind of fraud, I think this is the way to deal with bad speech," says Bankston. "This shows that you don't need to counter speech by attempting to censor it, but rather with better and more accurate information. As the truism goes, the best answer to bad speech is always more speech."

***************************************************************************
My comments: Andy Greenberg did a wonderful article! The cooking website that Reputation Defender created for me was my fault for not letting them know I was not a kitchen person. When I saw the site I thought it was cute and harmless - and I apologize if Reputation Defender is taking flack for my mistake in not telling them sooner.

Reputation Defender and MyEdge are priceless! If you are being slandered or ruined online - I highly recommend them. I am someone that fought legally and won $11.3 M - but with that hefty jury verdict - the ugliness of the web still remained. Well - until I retained Reputation Defender and MyEdge!

For over 7 years I have run a very successful organization in helping parents - like with all businesses, you can't please everyone - but it doesn't give people a right to ruin you and your years of hard work. Parent's Universal Resource Experts (PURE) has literally helped thousands of families and is proudly a member of the Better Business Bureau for several years.

My book will be released in 2008 - http://www.suescheff.net/ - Website Design Courtesy of MyEdge.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle - Web Can Ruin Reputation with a stroke of a key

Web can ruin reputation with stroke of a key

Anna Badkhen, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

The first postings appeared soon after Sue Scheff, who runs a Web-based referral service for parents with troubled teenagers, advised a woman from Louisiana to withdraw her twin sons from a boarding school in 2002.

Scheff is "a con artist," "a crook" and "a fraud," according to the messages, which peppered blogs and Internet forums for parents of troubled teens.

Soon, calls to Scheff's Parents Universal Resource Experts dropped by half, said Scheff, 45, who lives in Weston, Fla. "People would say: 'You know, I just read this about you online. How do I know I can trust you?' "

Scheff, whose 6-year-old service usually draws a lot of traffic, is a victim of an emerging phenomenon: online smear campaigns, which can wreak havoc in the victims' professional and business lives at the touch of a few keystrokes.

"It is happening ... on more or less every Web site where people can create content," said Michael Fertik, a co-founder of ReputationDefender, a Palo Alto-based group that helps clients remove damaging content from the Internet. "From underage people, to university people, to graduate school people, to older people, to people who are being targeted by exes, to people who are being targeted by ex-business partners, colleagues at work."

Millions of Americans use Internet search engines and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to learn more about prospective dates, neighbors and colleagues. One in 4 hiring managers use online search engines like Google to screen job candidates, a survey by the CareerBuilder job search engine showed last fall. The Internet has become a 21st century credit report service.

The catch: Anyone can post any information about anyone, however false, on any one of the thousands of Internet sites with modifiable content. Once posted, defamatory information can be stored on the Web forever, accessible to anyone via a simple search.

"You would Google my name, and what would come up was 'beware of Sue Scheff,' " said Scheff, 45, who eventually won an $11.3 million defamation lawsuit last fall against the mother from Louisiana, Carey Bock, the author of most of the original postings accusing Scheff of fraud that started appearing in 2003. "It was ugly. It was horrible."

Bock, 49, told The Chronicle last week that she will appeal the decision, handed down by a jury in Florida's Broward County Circuit Court. "I don't think I've done anything wrong," she said. [As a footnote - the judgment is certified - there are no grounds for appeal.]

"There have always been cases of people speaking their minds without thinking of ramifications," and defamatory postings are "simply a new expression of that," said Rebecca Jeschke, spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit legal organization that advocates digital rights and free speech.

In contrast to ReputationDefender, she said, the foundation counsels many people "who are being accused of defamation, who say what they said was an opinion."

Because it is often hard to tell fiction from fact, employers sometimes unwittingly allow falsehoods posted on the Internet to inform their decisions about prospective employees, said Larry Ponemon, president and founder of the Michigan-based Ponemon Institute, which specializes in privacy research.

"Cyber-slamming is a recent phenomenon (that is) going to create an entire area of legal issues for people who were denied potential employment because someone decided to publish slanderous information on them," Ponemon said.

A February survey by the institute showed that roughly one-third of Internet searches by hiring managers yielded content that became the basis for denying jobs to the candidates.

That's what one Yale law student believes happened to her earlier this year when none of the 16 law firms to which she had applied for a summer job made her an offer. The student, who did not want her name used because she feared retribution online, has published articles in legal journals and says she has "great grades."

She was one of several female Yale law students singled out by anonymous contributors to a popular law school message board on AutoAdmit.com, a discussion forum for law students.
The postings contain derogatory references to her mental capacity and sexual activity, claim she had sexually transmitted diseases, and threaten sexual violence against her.

The woman said the law firm representatives who had interviewed her must have seen these comments. She said the representatives had asked her for personal information that she had not included in her resume, but which appears alongside the AutoAdmit.com postings when her name is searched on Google.

"That's really unprecedented; most students get multiple job offers. I have been applying in an area I have an immense expertise in. I knew my stuff," said the student, who said she does not know who wrote the anonymous postings.

Law firms are reluctant to hire students whose names are associated with anything scandalous, said another Yale law student. An AutoAdmit.com chat last winter discussed the student's breasts and posted her photographs.

"They don't want their clients to be able to Google their attorney's names and see this," she explained.

The women had asked Jarret Cohen, the owner of AutoAdmit.com, to remove the discussions, but he had refused.

"It's a slippery slope once you start deciding what is and what isn't allowed to be said," Cohen, a 23-year-old insurance broker in Pennsylvania, wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle. He acknowledged that violations of privacy on discussion boards are "part of a growing social problem on the Internet."

Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School, denounced the assertions on AutoAdmit.com as "false and hurtful" in an open letter to the law school students. "These malicious attacks, as well as racist, sexist and homophobic speech, have no place in the Yale Law School community," Koh wrote. AutoAdmit.com is not affiliated with Yale.

Under current law, a court cannot oblige the owner of a site hosting defamatory postings to remove the offensive content, said Fertik, whose company has hundreds of clients across 17 countries.

ReputationDefender (www .reputationdefender.com), which was founded last fall, charges $29.95 to try to remove each item from the Internet, and a monthly fee of $9.95 to continue to monitor postings about an existing client.

Sporadic attempts to rein in defamatory content have been unsuccessful so far. Last month, bloggers denounced as censorship a call to ban anonymous comments and delete abusive posts.

The proposal by Tim O'Reilly, a book publisher and chief of O'Reilly Media Inc., came after Kathy Sierra, a Colorado blogger, received anonymous death threats and was frightened into canceling her appearance at O'Reilly's conference in San Diego.

Damaging postings don't always come from ill-wishers. Individuals post provocative information or pictures of themselves, only to learn later that employers see these posts as reason not to hire them, said Jennifer Sullivan, a spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.

Applicants typically get in trouble, she said, by posting "information or photos that show them drinking or using drugs or being irresponsible," Sullivan said.

"The Internet is a big tattooing machine that makes you relive momentary mistakes and lapses in judgment that we all make," said Fertik, who said ReputationDefender often helps people remove items they had posted on the Internet about themselves.

Still, it hurts far more when such postings appear without the knowledge of their subjects -- as happened to Danté Roberson, a jazz and hip-hop drummer from Oakland. When an anonymous posting on MySpace.com in January accused him of being a thief, Roberson hired ReputationDefender, which persuaded the owner of the specific MySpace.com page to remove the offending post that Roberson said could have cost him numerous gigs.

"Who wants to have all that kind of mess in their camp?" said Roberson, who makes a living touring with bands. "You are trying to run a clean and sober camp and all of a sudden this (appears). Who wants to have this dirtiness on them?"

E-mail Anna Badkhen at abadkhen@sfchronicle.com.
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/06/MNGBEPM57J1.DTL

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wall Street Journal Article - Why you Should Spy on Yourself

Why You Should Spy on Yourself
By M.P. MCQUEEN
April 21, 2007

More people are running background checks. On themselves.

Used to be, the best way to pry into someone's past was to hire a gumshoe. However, today everyone from prospective employers to identity thieves -- and even first dates -- can do surprisingly sophisticated searches, looking for skeletons in your closet.

Schools, too, are dialing up their snooping. Wharton and Columbia Business schools are using investigators to weed out fibs and padded resumes. Harvard recently added a former professional screener to its undergraduate admissions staff.

In the past few years, 47 states, including Connecticut, Missouri, Nevada and Pennsylvania, have released records from some courts online, with case files ranging from gun possession to littering violations.

Specialist companies like ChoicePoint Inc. and Reed Elsevier PLC's LexisNexis Group quickly mine and sell information like this to companies for a fee.

HOW TO CHECK YOURSELF OUT

Here are some resources for finding out beforehand what a background screen by a prospective employer, college admissions officer or others might reveal about you:

The Company Records Kept Contact Information Experian, TransUnion, Equifax Your credit history, Social Security Number and other personal info Free annual credit report from major bureaus required by federal law available at 1-877-322-8228 or annualcreditreport.com1.
ChoicePoint Inc. Information from government public records and some courts on real estate, liens, bankruptcies, professional licenses, death filings Free annual report from choicetrust.com2.

Pre-employment self-check from ChoiceTrust starting at $24.95 for national criminal file from some courts, or $49.95 for search that includes employment or education verification.

LexisNexis Social Security Number, date-of-birth, titles, liens, judgments, criminal data from some courts, address history For a free copy of information contained in a background screening report, call 877-913-6245 or email compliance@wxpscreening. lexisnexis.com3. Also sells Accurint Person Report for $8 (call 888-332-8244) that compiles information from public and private databases under your name.

ReputationDefender.com4 Scans the Internet for defamatory or offensive material about you. Helps get it removed or suppressed. Services begin at $10 a month.

Just Googling yourself isn't sufficient to spot problems. As a result, an array of new services have cropped up in recent months that claim to help you pre-emptively check if your personal and financial data are inaccurate or exposed to abuse.

Some services from identity-theft-protection firms TrustedID Inc. and MyPublicInfo Inc. check for unauthorized use of your Social Security number, a growing problem as undocumented immigrants and others seek employment or benefits such as medical care.

Recently, "one woman had 250 W-4s submitted to the IRS under her name and Social Security number," says Troy Allen of Kroll Fraud Solutions, a Marsh & McLennan Cos. unit that helps victims of identity theft restore their good names.

LexisNexis and ChoicePoint have also rolled out consumer versions of their services, including a personal-records profile and pre-employment self-check. The services cost from less than $10 to about $50.

One of the latest entrants, ReputationDefender Inc., recently began marketing an online service that claims it can sometimes help remove or bury negative or embarrassing Web postings. (Think of everything from lampshade-on-head photos to unflattering blog entries lurking online
somewhere.)

It's impossible to know how many errors are contained in background checks. However, a 2004 study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that 79% of consumer-credit reports contained at least one mistake.

A factual error in a criminal-background check nearly cost Bobby McMeekin Jr., 27 years old, a better job as a supervisor at a bank call center when it turned up a felony drunk-driving conviction that didn't belong to him. "You can't have any kind of a conviction to work in a bank right now," the Lubbock, Texas, resident says.

The problem: The screening agency had confused Mr. McMeekin with a convicted man who shared his surname. After pulling the conviction records himself, Mr. McMeekin got a letter from the court to prove it, and got the job.

Because of concerns about everything from terrorism and illegal immigration to workplace violence, background checks have become commonplace. The percentage of employers who say they routinely check references and screen candidates has jumped to about 96% from 51% about a decade ago, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Most employers hire a background-screening agency like ChoicePoint to do their sleuthing, for which federal law requires that they get your written consent. You can refuse, but you'll probably lose your shot at the job.

The first step in running a background check on yourself: Order your credit report. These are from major credit-reporting agencies Equifax, TransUnion and Experian and can be obtained from http://www2.blogger.com/www.annualcreditreport.com5 or 1-877-322-8228.

Check for unauthorized credit-card accounts and loans, bad addresses and unfamiliar names that could be evidence of identity theft. Notify the agencies and creditors if anything seems amiss.

The good news: Background reports prepared by agencies like these are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. As a result, you're supposed to be notified of the reason if a negative report results in a missed opportunity, giving you a chance to correct mistakes.
You can also check if anyone else has been using your Social Security number by reviewing your annual Social Security earnings statement that you should receive in the mail. Or get a copy at www.ssa.gov6.

Mysterious earnings could be evidence that someone else is working under your Social Security number.

StolenIDSearch.com7, a new free service from TrustedID, lets you find out whether your Social Security or credit-card numbers are among some 2.3 million compromised pieces of identification in its database, which it obtains from organizations that compile lists of numbers recovered in fraud investigations.

Still, that database represents just a fraction of the estimated 150 million identities that have been compromised in data breaches in the U.S., including from hacking incidents and records thefts. In one of the latest incidents, the Agriculture Department recently learned that thousands of participants in department programs had had their Social Security numbers posted in a public database. The department Friday said it had removed the numbers.
IdentitySweep.com8, a product of MyPublicInfo, charges $4.95 a month to monitor public records to see if your Social Security number turns up attached to someone else's name. For $6.95 a month, you also get identity-theft insurance, which promises to reimburse as much as $25,000 in expenses connected with recovering from an incident.

Under a 2004 federal law, consumers are entitled to a free annual public-records search from Acxiom Corp., ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and other reporting agencies. The records include lien searches, bankruptcy judgments, real-estate ownership records, insurance information, professional licenses and other government data.

The companies warn that they can't always correct the information supplied -- you have to contact the sources to do that. For a free report, go to http://www2.blogger.com/www.ChoiceTrust.com9 for information. Contact LexisNexis at 1-877-913-6245. And Acxiom, which provides material to people only when a background search has also been ordered by a corporate client, is at 1-888-3ACXIOM.
ChoicePoint also sells a consumer version of its more extensive background reports for prices ranging from $9.95 to $49.95. The premium-priced report includes a county and national criminal file search, and employment or education verification.

MyPublicInfo.com10 provides a similar Public Information Profile for $79.95. Criminal records aren't comprehensive because some state and local courts may not be included. Kroll's background-screening division sells self-checks for $50 to $100.

For $8, LexisNexis sells its Accurint Person Report, which compiles information from public and private databases under your name, including motor-vehicle registration information.
Among the toughest problems to fix can be unflattering online postings.

Even just a few years ago, no one would have worried about it. But the fact is, they can linger in cyberspace forever. ReputationDefender.com11 is designed to scour the Web for unflattering material about you, then will try to either have it removed or make it show up less prominently in search results.

Sue Scheff runs a Florida referral service for parents with troubled teenagers. But when a woman posted hundreds of defamatory statements on the Web about Ms. Scheff, she successfully sued for $11.3 million. She then hired ReputationDefender, which managed to bury most of the worst postings by generating more activity for positive mentions of Ms.
Scheff's business. "It was a lifesaver," she says.

Another option, particularly for someone with a high income and/or a high-profile position, would be to hire a private investigator or a professional screening firm, such as Kroll or LexisNexis Screening Solutions, to do the work. Executive-level type screenings from Kroll begin at $3,000.

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners, a trade organization, has a list of members on its Web site at www.napbs.com12.

Some are private eyes who can go to courts in jurisdictions where you have lived and pull the files. They can also help you get your medical records from the insurance industry, and interview friends and associates.

All of the providers say they require some proof of identity before releasing the reports.
URL for this article:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117711006626777439.html

Hyperlinks in this Article:
(1) http://annualcreditreport.com/
(2) http://choicetrust.com/
(3) mailto:compliance@wxpscreening.lexisnexis.com
(4) http://reputationdefender.com/
(5) http://www.annualcreditreport.com/
(6) http://www.ssa.gov/
(7) http://stolenidsearch.com/
(8) http://identitysweep.com/
(9) http://www.choicetrust.com/
(10) http://mypublicinfo.com/
(11) http://reputationdefender.com/
(12) http://www.napbs.com/

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New York Times Article - A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs

April 9, 2007

A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs

By BRAD STONE
Correction Appended

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

A recent outbreak of antagonism among several prominent bloggers “gives us an opportunity to change the level of expectations that people have about what’s acceptable online,” said Mr. O’Reilly, who posted the preliminary recommendations last week on his company blog (radar.oreilly.com). Mr. Wales then put the proposed guidelines on his company’s site (blogging.wikia.com), and is now soliciting comments in the hope of creating consensus around what constitutes civil behavior online.

Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Wales talk about creating several sets of guidelines for conduct and seals of approval represented by logos. For example, anonymous writing might be acceptable in one set; in another, it would be discouraged. Under a third set of guidelines, bloggers would pledge to get a second source for any gossip or breaking news they write about.

Bloggers could then pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. The whole system would be voluntary, relying on the community to police itself.

“If it’s a carefully constructed set of principles, it could carry a lot of weight even if not everyone agrees,” Mr. Wales said.
The code of conduct already has some early supporters, including David Weinberger, a well-known blogger (hyperorg.com/blogger) and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. “The aim of the code is not to homogenize the Web, but to make clearer the informal rules that are already in place anyway,” he said.

But as with every other electrically charged topic on the Web, finding common ground will be a serious challenge. Some online writers wonder how anyone could persuade even a fraction of the millions of bloggers to embrace one set of standards. Others say that the code smacks of restrictions on free speech.

Mr. Wales and Mr. O’Reilly were inspired to act after a firestorm erupted late last month in the insular community of dedicated technology bloggers. In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra, a high-tech book author from Boulder County, Colo., and a friend of Mr. O’Reilly, reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone’s personal Web site.

Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites — including one that depicted her head next to a noose — Ms. Sierra canceled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether.

In an interview, she dismissed the argument that cyberbullying is so common that she should overlook it. “I can’t believe how many people are saying to me, ‘Get a life, this is the Internet,’ ” she said. “If that’s the case, how will we ever recognize a real threat?”

Ms. Sierra said she supported the new efforts to improve civility on the Web. The police investigation into her case is pending.

Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decay into ugliness than those in other media.

Nowadays, those conversations often take place on blogs. At last count, there were 70 million of them, with more than 1.4 million entries being added daily, according to Technorati, a blog-indexing company. For the last decade, these Web journals have offered writers a way to amplify their voices and engage with friends and readers.

But the same factors that make those unfiltered conversations so compelling, and impossible to replicate in the offline world, also allow them to spin out of control.

As many female bloggers can attest, women are often targets. Heather Armstrong, a blogger in Salt Lake City who writes publicly about her family (dooce.com), stopped accepting unmoderated comments on her blog two years ago after she found that conversations among visitors consistently devolved into vitriol.

Since last October, she has also had to deal with an anonymous blogger who maintains a separate site that parodies her writing and has included photos of Ms. Armstrong’s daughter, copied from her site.

Ms. Armstrong tries not to give the site public attention, but concedes that, “At first, it was really difficult to deal with.”

Women are not the only targets of nastiness. For the last four years, Richard Silverstein has advocated for Israeli-Palestinian peace on a blog (richardsilverstein.com) that he maintains from Seattle.

People who disagree with his politics frequently leave harassing comments on his site. But the situation reached a new low last month, when an anonymous opponent started a blog in Mr. Silverstein’s name that included photos of Mr. Silverstein in a pornographic context.
“I’ve been assaulted and harassed online for four years,” he said. “Most of it I can take in stride. But you just never get used to that level of hatred.”

One public bid to improve the quality of dialogue on the Web came more than a year ago when Mena Trott, a co-founder of the blogging software company Six Apart, proposed elevating civility on the Internet in a speech she gave at a French blog conference. At the event, organizers had placed a large screen on the stage showing instant electronic responses to the speeches from audience members and those who were listening in online.

As Ms. Trott spoke about improving online conduct, a heckler filled the screen with personal insults. Ms Trott recalled “losing it” during the speech.

Ms. Trott has scaled back her public writing and now writes a blog for a limited audience of friends and family. “You can’t force people to be civil, but you can force yourself into a situation where anonymous trolls are not in your life as much,” she said.

The preliminary recommendations posted by Mr. Wales and Mr. O’Reilly are based in part on a code developed by BlogHer, a network for women designed to give them blogging tools and to guide readers to their pages.

“Any community that does not make it clear what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who is welcome to join the conversation is at risk of finding it difficult to help guide the conversation later,” said Lisa Stone, who created the guidelines and the BlogHer network in 2006 with Elisa Camahort and Jory Des Jardins.

A subtext of both sets of rules is that bloggers are responsible for everything that appears on their own pages, including comments left by visitors. They say that bloggers should also have the right to delete such comments if they find them profane or abusive.

That may sound obvious, but many Internet veterans believe that blogs are part of a larger public sphere, and that deleting a visitor’s comment amounts to an assault on their right to free speech. It is too early to gauge support for the proposal, but some online commentators are resisting.

Robert Scoble, a popular technology blogger who stopped blogging for a week in solidarity with Kathy Sierra after her ordeal became public, says the proposed rules “make me feel uncomfortable.” He adds, “As a writer, it makes me feel like I live in Iran.”

Mr. O’Reilly said the guidelines were not about censorship. “That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. “Free speech is enhanced by civility.”

Correction: April 11, 2007
A picture caption on Monday with a front-page article about a proposal for a blogger code of conduct misstated a Web site that has developed a set of standards. It is BlogHer.org, not BlogHer.com.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Caught in the Net - By Taylor Atkins

The Capital-Journal

Published Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Once dismissed as foolish, Internet addiction is now getting second look from parents worried about teens' time online.

Oh, what a tangled Web we weave, when first we practice to... get online.

Many Topeka teenagers admit they never feel quite right until they have checked their MySpace, Facebook or e-mail accounts in the morning and when they get home from school and again before bed.

None, however, believe they are addicted to the Web.

Since the term "Internet addiction" was introduced in the late 1990s, Web users and medical professionals have dismissed the idea. Some think the long hours of isolation characteristic of too much Web use are just a by-product of other mental issues such as depression.

But Kimberly Young, director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, said the idea is gaining popularity. Parents are starting to research the addiction as they watch their teens become more attached to the computer.

Sue Scheff, a Florida mother who helped start PURE, an organization for parents to help other parents with struggling teenagers, said Internet usage should be a major concern for parents.

"Parents aren't as concerned with their teens who are online once in a while," she said. "Parents are concerned with the teens who are completely addicted to MySpace or some other Web site. The ones who are not able to tear themselves away."

A January media survey released in China showed 2 million Chinese teenagers are Internet addicts. The survey also indicated the crime rate among teens has risen dramatically in the past five years, and some officials have linked the two findings. Other studies from sociologists and psychiatrists around the world have linked Internet addiction to growing levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-consciousness, obesity and other problems facing youths.

Numbers for U.S. Internet addicts aren't as exact. Young said the belief is that 6 percent of the population are online addicts, with the numbers rising to 19 percent of the population on college campuses.

Internet addiction, Scheff said, is only part of the problem. Not only are teenagers spending more and more time online — and subsequently less and less time in reality — they are clueless about the rules governing the virtual world.

"There are several issues here," Scheff explained. "The fact is that these teens can become introverts. It affects levels of growth and maturity. The other thing is teens don't understand that people lie online, people aren't honest online. Do you really know who is on the other end of those messages or chat rooms?"

Scheff recently won an online defamation suit that was one of the largest jury-decided victories to date. She was given an $11.3 million decision after an organization attacked her and her family verbally online with threats and rumors.

She continues to be concerned about the abuse that goes on between teens. Web sites have become the new school playground where teasing and bullying begins.

And, Scheff said, punishment isn't as easy as throwing someone in time out.

"I was told from the very beginning my case would be difficult because Internet laws aren't concrete," she said. "Internet defamation is a new law. We set the precedent."

In Topeka, teenagers, too, have recently run into issues with Internet regulations. In a December issue of the Topeka West's newspaper, The Campus View, staff members ran photos from students' Facebook accounts in the paper. The pictures were blurred out, but parents said not enough to prevent lawsuits.

However, lawsuits about Internet ownership are hazy. Chris Joseph, a Topeka lawyer, said, though he couldn't speak directly about the Topeka West issue, like defamation, ownership rights on the Internet also are hard to prosecute.

"It may be that the person who puts a picture on the Internet doesn't forfeit rights to that photo, but I just don't know that anyone short of Paris Hilton would be able to afford going to court over it," he said.

According to Facebook and MySpace, anything posted on a profile, comment, blog or message still belongs to the user, but the Web site has the right to use it in the advertising for their site. This means if someone posted song lyrics on MySpace, the site, owned now by Fox's Rupert Murdoch, could use the song in a MySpace commercial.

With the possibility of teenagers becoming isolated and the hazy regulations, Scheff said she has to wonder why parents allow teens to be online as much as they are.

"I just don't understand why the time they are on the Internet is growing," she said.
According to a study by the Pew Internet Project, teenage internet usage increased by 24 percent between 2001 and 2005, and still continues to grow. It is estimated that more than 77 million children and teenagers are online.

But some Topeka teenagers say they aren't worried about the downsides of the Web. For the most part, they haven't experienced depression, isolation or anything falling into the grey area of legal issues.

"I'm on the Internet all the time," said John David, 17. "I still have friends, and I'm not sad. We always here about the bad things that could happen, but they haven't happened to those of us who are smart online."

Scheff said making sure teenagers use their brains online is the best way to keep them safe, but she said she still thinks its necessary to enforce some limitations.

"It's really sad because it use to be family time. Now it's computer time playing Free Cell," she explained. "People need to go back to being a family together and being safe."

Taylor Atkins can be reached at (785)295-1187 or taylor.atkins@cjonline.com.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Peeka-Boo!

Kathleen ParkerWashington Post Writer's Group

March 11, 2007

WASHINGTON -- It seemed like a good idea at the time.

How often have we all pasted that cartoon balloon over the mental image of a youthful indiscretion? Thank goodness no one had a camera, we might add.

Now everybody has a camera, and youthful indiscretions are captured for all time. And suddenly, we're not so young anymore.

The MySpace-Facebook-dot-com generation has come of age, and some are finding that their silly stunts have come back to haunt them as they enter the grown-up marketplace. Others are finding that their private moments are not so private after all.

Three young women featured anonymously in a recent Washington Post article told horror stories of their attempts to find jobs, only to discover that they may have been disqualified by online postings by virtual strangers. Gossip and graphics included.

One, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and Yale law student who had gotten articles published in law journals, interviewed at 16 firms for a summer job and received no offers. How could that be?

It turned out that she and others had been discussed in not-so-flattering terms on an online message board, AutoAdmit, which is run by a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a 23-year-old insurance agent, according to the Post. The board boasts up to 1 million visitors a month, and postings can be anonymous.

And vicious.

Another woman featured in the Post story is a Yale law student and Fulbright scholar who graduated summa cum laude. Not only was she the subject of a derogatory AutoAdmit chat, but photographs of her were posted on a "hottest" law-school student contest site with graphic discussions of her attributes.

Not everyone hates to be considered "hot," but this woman was afraid to go to the gym because visitors to the site were encouraged to take cell-phone pictures of her. Beware the chatterbox in the shower stall next door. Another young woman felt afraid when online chatter about her led to an anonymous sexual threat.

The tension between free speech and privacy is nothing new, but the debate has become more complicated by the explosion in video portability and networking Web sites. In today's uncivil society, the stakes are high and the rules are low.

Invite anonymity to the mix and hostility finds release in the vacuum created when shame went missing.

Unfortunately for some, employers are now using the Internet to vet job candidates. They, too, can be privy to those just-for-fun college forays, as well as to commentary from those with an ax to grind.

The Post reported research showing that about half of U.S. hiring officials use the Internet to evaluate job applicants and that about one-third had denied employment based on material produced by an Internet search engine. Could it happen to you? Apparently, it could happen to anyone.

Today's college students frequently post their bios with photos on Facebook.com. Innocent and inexperienced in the realm of repercussions, they don't hesitate to display their silliest selves, clothed and often not.

The generation that was serenaded by Madonna and marinated in sexual imagery now dwells in a high-tech, freewheeling, sexually explicit environment where porn is the new risque and everybody's gone wild.

Ivy League and other large universities frequently are home to sex magazines featuring students who say posing nude is "fun" and a "badge of honor," according to last Sunday's New York Times magazine. What's the big deal? "A body is a body is a body, and I'm proud of my body, and why not show my body?" asks Alecia Oleyourryk, co-founder of Boink, a "user-friendly porn" magazine produced by students at Boston University.

"It's not going to keep me from having a job."

Famous last words, perhaps.

It is true that a body is just a body, and everybody has one. But those who've lived awhile know that what we "knew" with certainty in our 20s isn't necessarily what we come to know in our 30s, 40s and 50s. When you sexualize and objectify yourself, it's asking a lot that others -- including future bosses -- refrain from doing the same.

Advice to the young: If you can't imagine your mother or father doing something, you probably shouldn't do it either. Your kids may remind you of that someday.

Kathleen Parker can be reached at kparker@kparker.com.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Editorial: Free speech has its limits

Posted on November 1, 2006

People who may believe they can say whatever they want on the Internet should consider a recent verdict in a Florida courtroom.

A jury awarded the head of a children's services referral company $11.3 million in damages in one of the largest-ever awards in an Internet defamation suit, according to The Associated Press.

The suit was filed in 2003 by Sue Scheff of Weston, founder of Parent's Universal Resource Experts, after a former client, Carey Bock of Louisiana, posted comments on the Internet calling Scheff a "con artist" and a "fraud."

Such language is mild compared to many comments and rants posted on various Internet sites. But, making defaming comments on the Internet is no different than making such comments in other public arenas, the jury found.

"Just because you don't like someone or what they do, it does not give you carte blanche to post false statements about a person on the Internet," Scheff told the AP.

David H. Pollack, Scheff's attorney, said, "You can't just destroy somebody's life, destroy somebody's reputation and make blatant false statements about somebody and have there be no consequences."

The $11.3 million judgment against Bock included $5 million in punitive damages.

The message should be clear. While the Internet may be an easy place to vent anger or frustration at people or agencies, what is posted can come back to cause even more problems for the person posting.

Internet defamation suits are rare so far, but if the jury award in Florida helps set a precedent, more such suits can be expected.

So, say what you want in private. But, if you go into a public site on the Internet, be cautious — and act civilly. The person you are attacking may also be watching the site with an attorney only a phone call away.