The practices associated with public relations, spin control, and reputation management have been turned upside down in the last decade due to the “G-Generation”; where “G” is for “Google”. The sweeping descriptions given to the various generations in bygone years (baby boomers, X- generation, Y. generation etc.) have been for very specific age groups. Whereas, G. generation encompasses almost every man woman and child who has regular access to a computer and Internet connectivity.
In the past if someone said something nasty and untrue about you, you had a few obvious options:
(a) punch him or her in the nose
(b) ask your big brother to punch him or her in the nose
(c) sit down and reason with your antagonist
(d) fight fire with fire in a mutual smear campaign
(e) file a defamation suit.
The traditional publishing mediums used to effect a smear campaign have paled into insignificance next to the pandemic of Internet libel. The prevalence of these toxic publications is due largely to the fact that blogging technologies and the all too accessible “submit” button lack the traditional emotional and physical controls that have previously weeded out most false and malicious speech. The primary emotional control in the past was simply time to cool down, while the physical control was primarily fulfilled by third-party publishers and editors through whom most publications had to pass. There is no doubt in my mind that poor impulse control on the part of libelous authors results in most problems in this area. Although, for those authors who demonstrate clear antisocial personality disorder criteria, impulse control is not the issue, their motivation is simply rottenness to their very core.
So, as a reader what should you do if, or more likely when, you come under attack from a malicious Internet libel smear campaign? There a few factors to consider, the first one has been termed “the Streisand effect”. This is where more attention is drawn to an issue as a result of the victim’s response than it would have otherwise received had the victim simply ignored the issue. This factor is particularly relevant to individuals with high social profiles such as celebrities, politicians, and so forth. On the other hand, ignoring a problem may incite your antagonist to escalate their campaign against you. If the person has a toxic and malicious personality, chances are they are fueled by your anguish and will stop at nothing until that desire is satisfied. In such cases the victim needs to balance many factors, most of which will rely on his or her discernment. A sociopath can be likened to a cat playing with and tormenting a mouse, if the mouse plays dead, then the cat will often become bored and leave. The downside is that playing dead can leave the victim with an empty feeling that comes from being victimized, discontentment from not being vindicated or justified. Notwithstanding, often, this can be far better emotionally, financially, socially than the vicious battle that could otherwise ensue.
If it is apparent that your tormentor is not going to leave you alone, if their smear campaign is costing your business, your career, your family, and relationships; then you may have no choice but to seek relief through litigation. It is important to realize that there have not been many precedents set for Internet libel. Furthermore, until somebody has personally experienced the debilitating anguish that comes with such a smear campaign, it is very difficult for him or her to relate; naturally, this includes judges and juries. I know of several cases where livelihoods of white-collar individuals had been utterly destroyed as completely as a farmer whose stock had been stolen and barns burned, and yet the judges have made flippant statements to the effect that it was a petty matter that should not be clogging up the justice system. To mitigate the chances of this type of partial injustice it is important for the victim to gather good information about similar cases in their state or jurisdiction. Unless you can give the judge something tangible, and preferably with binding precedent, you may have an uphill, expensive, and disappointing battle resulting in a dismissal and a permanent stage for your antagonist, but with even more enthusiasm.
Michael Roberts is a guest blogger and strategic partner of Think Basis specializing in internet reputation management services.