On Your Side
How to protect yourself from digital harassment
Steve Chamraz reports Video by tmj4.comvideo
MILWAUKEE - It's your face, your name, but the statements are false. As the worldwide web grows, the cases of digital abuse continue to increase.
We introduce you to 2 women--showing no signs of physical harm, but the wounds go more than skin deep.
One says, "I was really hurt, embarrassed."
The other explains, "It's an emotional rape."
Both women are victims of internet defamation--sharing their stories to help others.
For most of us the internet is a place we go to work, and sometimes play, but it's a fragile playground. Rebecca Grassl Bradley is a technology law attorney at Whyte, Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. She warns, "It's really impossible to prevent someone from posting information about you or your business online."
From message boards, to business review sites, to blogs, it's basically a freedom of speech free for all. The comments aren't always positive, and there's not much you can do to remove them.
"Under federal law, it's difficult to impossible to do that because they're immune or protected from liability under the Communications Decency Act," Bradley explains.
Sue Scheff of Florida chronicles her landmark internet defamation lawsuit in her book 'Google Bomb'. She won $11.3 million dollars in 2006 after a woman posted false statements about her and her child advocacy group, P.U.R.E.
"She wrote 'Sue Scheff abuses children, I kidnap kids, I exploit families, I'm a con, I'm dangerous," Sue explains.
When she decided to fight back it wasn't an easy process.
"Anybody can sue anybody, the fact is you have to have a lot of money," Sue says matter-of-factly.
Despite the eventual multi-million dollar payout, Sue says her life will never be quite the safe.
"They did destroy me, really for 5 years, I mean even today, you can Google me and find some horrific stuff about me out there," Sue says.
In another case, a local woman, who asked we hide her identity, says her ex-husband posted their private pictures on a fake Facebook page for everyone to see.
"He was trying to degrade me," she recalls.
She says removing the pictures was frustrating, explaining, "You have to go through process to prove you did not do this. It was not an easy process, there was no talking on phone, it was all done through email."
So how do you prevent this from happening in the first place?
Ken Hanson has helped hundreds of businesses learn to brand themselves through his marketing firm Hanson Dodge. He says people need to create their own brand online.
"Your online reputation is, for all practical purposes, who you are," Hanson warns.
The irony here is you have to be online in order to protect yourself from internet defamers. Hanson suggests blogging, networking, and doing everything you can to build your online reputation on your terms.
"It would probably be helpful for everyone to Google themselves and see what's out there," Hanson suggests.
Another good idea is to sign up for Google and Twitter alerts or Twilerts.
"You can receive an alert whenever anything positive or negative is posted about you online," Bradley says.
Even if you take these steps, this form of 'Digital Murder' can still happen. However, hanks to trailblazers like Sue, authorities are becoming more aware of it, and it's getting easier to fight back.
"I spent 5 yrs in the dark, not coming out, not sharing my story. The more I'm able to help people, and the more I'm able to talk about it, it's been very helpful," Sue admits.
Internet defamation is still a relatively new problem, but there is some help out there. One group is called CiviliNation. It's a non-profit group that offers victims advice and guidance.