Why Google De-Indexing May NOT be an Effective Reputation Management Solution.

What reputation management companies should know, defamation lawyers probably already know, but clients either aren’t being warned about or the clients are willing to try it anyway…

So your client comes in and complains that someone defamed them on the internet.  You put on your Super Lawyer cape and rush in to save the day.  No problem, you’ll walk through the litigation, get a court order that tells Google to remove, block or otherwise de-index the content from their search engine and, viola!  Problem solved, right?  WRONG.

While I sort of eluded to these issues in my blog article troubles with defamatory online reviews and content scrapers, just because search engines like Google will agree to de-index (which arguably, at least in the United States, they are under no obligation to do thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) doesn’t mean that the content goes away.  Indeed, it remains alive in many ways:

  1. The complaint that you filed, which contained the alleged defamatory language and or copies of the alleged defamatory postings is STILL part of the public court record and, in theory, always will be – most of which is accessible online;
  2. The website that hosts the alleged defamatory content may refuse (rightfully under the current US laws) to remove the content regardless of whether or not it is found to be defamatory;
  3. Google might “de-index” but they pretty much give people a road map on where to find the information via the Lumen Database and provide, where applicable, the supporting documents like a court order which, if people are smart and interested, they can find more information about the litigation through court records; and
  4. Under most privilege laws, one could write a story about the court case, even repeating verbatim the defamatory language right out of the court record, without penalty.

Indeed, if you search out a particular name in Google, and you see, at the bottom of the search results a statement about the matter having been removed from the search engine links, chances are, someone had information removed for some reason.  Typically a link to the Lumen Database is provided by Google and parties can click on that link to learn more about why the information was removed and what links were subject to being removed from the search results.

Depending on the situation, this “de-indexing” may not even last that long.  All a website has to do, if they were so inclined, is to update the URL and that would render the original URL de-index essentially useless.  The party who submit the information would then have to go back and try again by either getting another court order or resubmitting what they have to Google again – but then it could become a game of whack-a-mole and for what? The information is STILL available anyway.

I completely understand wanting to find a solution for relief for those that have genuinely been harmed online but I think there needs to be a shift from trying to bury and cover things up to providing A LOT more education regarding these issues (why people should be leery of what they read online, ways to not get themselves into these problems in the first place, constructive ways of handling issues) and perhaps, as I said recently, come up with harsher punishment for internet defamers.

Until next time friends…

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

 

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Your Kids Cyber-bullying? Eventually You Could be Held Responsible.

In my blog series Fighting Fair on the Internet I have been writing in general about the varying problems I see with use of the internet.  After all, given my unique position and area of law I work in, I have had the opportunity to see all kinds of situations that most people never even think about.  Seriously – the good, bad, and the ugly – I see all of it.  And why do I write about it?  Because everyday I see people making stupid mistakes that eventually end up coming back to haunt them in one way or another and because I think education on these issues, raising awareness, plays a key part in reducing the amount of problems I see.

A colleague of mine showed me an NBC Miami article where Central Florida attorney Mark O’Mara was considering writing law that would give law enforcement officials the ability hold parents accountable for the bad things their kids were doing online.  In response to an arrest back in 2013 of two girls in a Florida bullying and suicide investigation, attorney O’Mara wrote on his blog:

The question is this: is their ignorance and apathy about their daughter’s cyber-bullying criminal? Under our current laws, it looks like the answer is “no.” Should that sort of willful blindness or gross negligence be criminal? I think it should, and here’s why: if a child kills someone while operating a parent’s car, the parents can be held responsible. If a child kills someone while using a parent’s gun, the parent can be held responsible. If a child breaks the law using a computer or cellphone provided by the parent, how is that different?

If you ask me, I am already all for harsher punishment for internet defamers and harassers so his argument makes sense.  That is, of course, so long as the punishment is reasonable but yet has enough teeth to ensure that parents actually monitor and pay some level of attention to what their kids are doing online.  If you are a parent, you SHOULD be monitoring what your kids are doing – not just to keep yourself out of trouble but to protect your child from all the dangers online (physical, mental, and legal).

After my first presentation to high school students regarding internet use and the repercussions from the same, it was abundantly clear that a lot more education was needed.  I went as far as explaining to the students that after my presentation they probably knew more than their parents did – after all, most of us old enough to have teenagers really didn’t have internet growing up and we especially didn’t have social media.  I encouraged students to go home and talk with their parents about what they learned…because not all advice that kids get from their parents is the best – especially when it comes to online issues.

As some food for thought, according to the Cyberbullying Research Institute, 48 states, plus Washington, DC, have laws that include cyber-bullying or online harassment.  Out of those states, 44 of them have criminal sanctions for cyber-bullying or electronic harassment.  Some information regarding the different state laws on these issues can be found here.  Similarly, just remember that “anonymous” doesn’t really mean “anonymous.”  In most cases, your identifying information is only one or two well written subpoenas away.

Long story short, with the continuing increase of use of the internet, don’t be surprised when laws start being enacted to hold parents liable for the wrongs of their children.  Want to be proactive and learn more for yourself, your kids, or even for a group?  Contact me!  See my contact page for more information.

Have thoughts on this to share?  Share them in the comments below!

 

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet – Part 10 | That Would be Harsher Punishment for Internet Defamers Stan…

For many reasons the movie Ms. Congeniality with Sandra Bullock has been a long time favorite of mine.   Especially when she answered the question “What is one of the most important thing our society needs?” with “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators Stan…and world peace!”  I’m pretty sure since that movie first came out in 2000 I have been remixing that one-liner to fit my varying smarty pants comeback needs.  In fact, in muddling to myself just this morning after reviewing some dyspeptic online commentary I determined that I would answer the question “That would be harsher punishment for internet defamers Stan…and world peace!”  It’s true…internet defamers and harassers really do suck.

In my line of work, and in my every day life, I see people being nasty to one another online – and sometimes people really cross the line and forget that words do hurt.  Sometimes I wonder what happened to the good old fashioned “take it out behind the barn and duke it out…looser buys the other guy a drink” form of justice.  Back in the day (and I really hate saying that because I am not THAT old) if anyone ran their mouth in person like they do today online – man, they’d get a beat down and, quite honestly, they would have probably deserved it.  To make matters worse, you get the morons that jump on the keyboard warrior band wagon without having the first clue about what is REALLY going on and they either share the crap out of the false stuff or otherwise join in on the bashing.  When is enough, enough?  What the hell happened to the human connection and manners?  So much of society needs a good metaphorical kick in the teeth.  The First Amendment doesn’t shelter you from false and defamatory statements nor should it be abused as a license to be a jerk-face.  Unfortunately, unlike the “old days,”  it no longer hurts to be stupid and run your mouth.

Indeed I am a Section 230 Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) supporter, because I don’t think that websites should be held liable for the stupid crap that other people do; after all, that mentality is akin to an over weight person blaming the spoon manufacturer for making a spoon that they can use to eat and get fat with.  “…but, but, the spoon made me fat!”  And to those who just read that and got all defensive – clearly my reference isn’t to those who have medical issues or things outside of their control.  I’m talking about the person who is heavy because of purposeful overeating, failing to do exercises, etc.  Sometimes life happens.  We get busy and fail to take care of ourselves as we should but we can’t blame the spoon manufacturer for it.  The spoon didn’t make us fat.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  This is absolutely no different and trying to hold websites liable for the stupidity of third-parties is asinine to me.  Yes, yes, I am well aware that the CDA protects websites from liability from third-party content, however, it doesn’t seem to stop people and attorneys from filing frivolous lawsuits…but I digress here.  That is another story for another day.  However, I do think that there should be some serious punishment for all these people who purposefully go out of their way to post false and defamatory information about others…the same goes for harassers.  Perhaps if these people got hit harder in the pocket book or were forced into doing community service – like helping with anti-bullying and harassment initiatives, maybe THEN it would slow down. There just needs to be more education and more deterrents.  It’s far too easy to sit behind the keyboard and be mean.  MEAN. PEOPLE. SUCK.

Until next time friends…

 

 

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet – Part 9 |Troubles with Defamatory Online Reviews and Content Scrapers

Content scrapers are problematic for authors, defamation plaintiffs and website operators alike.

There is no doubt that there is typically a clash of interests between authors, defamation plaintiffs and the operators of websites who host public third-party content.  Authors either want the information to stay or be removed; defamation plaintiffs want information removed from the website(s); and website operators, such as many of the online review websites, fight for the freedom of speech and transparency – often arguing, among many other things, that the information is in a public court record anyway so removal is moot.  These kinds of arguments, often surrounding the application of federal law know as the Communications Decency Act, or Section 230 (which arguable provides that websites don’t have to remove content even if it is false and defamatory) are playing out in courts right now.  One example is the case of Hassell v. Bird which is up on appeal before the California Supreme Court relating to a posting on Yelp.  However, in spite of these clashes of interests, there does seem to be a trend emerging where the author, the plaintiffs, and the websites, are actually standing in the same boat facing the the same troublemaker.

Providing some background and context…

COPYRIGHT AND POSTING AN ONLINE REVIEW:  Many people are familiar with the term “copyright” and have a basic understanding that a copyright is a legal right that is created by the law that gives the creator of an original work limited exclusive rights for its use and distribution.  Wikipedia has some decent general information if you are interested in learning more.  For example, a guy who I will call John for the purpose of this story, can get on a computer and draft up a complaint about Jane and her company XYZ  before he posts it online on a review website.  As it sits on John’s computer as written, John would own the copyright to that information.  When John decides to post it online to a review website, depending on the website’s terms of service John may have assigned his copyright rights to the website in which he was posting on.  So either John or the website may own the copyright to that content.  That point is important for a few reasons, and there are arguments for and against such an assignment, but those issues are for another article some other time.

DEFAMATORY POSTING IS PUBLISHED ONLINE:  Continuing with the story, let’s say that John makes a bad call in judgment (because he hasn’t sat through one of my seminars relating to internet use and repercussions from the same, or hasn’t read my article on not being THAT guy, and doesn’t realize how bad doing this really is) and decides to post his false and defamatory posting about Jane and XYZ to an online review website.  It’s totally NOT COOL that he did that but let’s say that he did.  Now that posting is online, being indexed by search engines like Google, and anyone searching for Jane or XYZ might be seeing John’s posting.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE DEFAMATORY POSTINGS:  The internet tends to work at lightening speed and John’s post is sure to be caught on to by Jane or by someone who knows Jane or her company XYZ.  As an aside, I always recommend that people and businesses periodically, like once a month, run searches about themselves or businesses just to see what pops up.  It’s just a good habit to get into because if there is a problem you will want to address it right away – especially you think it is false and defamatory and want to take legal action because there are pretty strict statue of limitations on those – in many states only providing one year from the date of publication.  When Jane learns of the posting, maybe she knows who John is by what was said in the posting – and maybe she isn’t sure who posted it – but either way chances are she is likely going to seek legal help to learn more about her options.  Many people in Jane’s position will want to threaten to sue the website…but it’s actually not that simple.  Why?  Because unless the website actually contributed to writing the stuff, which they most likely didn’t, then they can’t be held liable for that content.  That’s the law here in the United States – the Communications Decency Act.  Fortunately, while online defamation is a niche area of law, there are many attorneys who are well versed in online defamation around the country that are able to assist people who find themselves in this kind of a situation.

So by now you are probably wondering how in the world a defamed party and a website could both be standing in the same boat.  I promise I am getting there but I felt the need to walk through this story for the benefit of those who don’t work in this field and have little to no clue what I am even talking about.  Baby steps…I’m getting there.

A FIGHT FOR REMOVAL:  As I pointed out in the beginning, arguably under the law, websites don’t have to remove the content even if it is found by a court or otherwise to be false and defamatory and that leaves plaintiffs in an awkward position.  They want the information taken down from the internet because it’s alleged to be harmful.  What can be done all depends on the website the content is on.

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT:  Many people think that reputation management is the way to go.  However, while reputation management can be helpful in some instances, and I’m not trying to knock those legitimate companies out there that can definitely help a company with increasing their advertising and image online, many find it only to be a temporary band-aid when trying to cover up negativity.  Similarly, in some cases, some reputation management companies may employ questionable tactics such as bogus DMCAs or fake Court Orders.  Yes, those situations are real – I actually just presented on that topic to a group of internet lawyers less than two months ago and I caution anyone who is using or considering a reputation management company that guarantees removal of content from the internet.

A WEBSITE’S INTERNAL POLICING:  The same law that protects websites from liability for third-party content is the same law that encourages self policing by providing for editorial discretion on what to post and not post.  As such, some websites have taken their own proactive approach  and created their own internal policing system where, depending on the circumstances and what was written, the website might find that the posting violated their terms of service and, within their discretion, take some sort of action to help a victim out.  Not every website has this but it’s certainly worth checking into.

COURT ORDERS:  Remember, a website, arguably per the law, doesn’t necessarily have to take a posting down regardless of what the court order says.  Shocking, but this has been found to be true in many cases around the country.  So what do websites do?  Here are a few scenarios on how websites might consider a court order:

  • Some websites will, without question, accept a court order regardless of jurisdiction and remove content – even if it is by default which can mean that the defendant didn’t appear and defend the case.  It’s worth while to note that some people won’t appear and defend because: 1) they never got notice of the lawsuit in the first place; 2) they didn’t have the knowledge to fight the case themselves; and 3) they didn’t have the resources to hire an attorney to fight the case – let’s face it – good lawyers are expensive!  Even cheap lawyers are still expensive.
  • Some websites will remove a posting only if there is some sort of evidence that supported the court order – like the defendant appeared and agreed to remove or even if there is a simple affidavit by the author who agrees that the information is false and is willing to remove it.
  • Some websites will only redact the specific content that has been found to be false and defamatory by the court based on evidence.  This means that whatever opinions or other speech that would be protected under the law, such as the truth, would remain posted on the website.
  • And still, other websites won’t event bother with a court order because they are out of the country and/or just don’t give a crap.  These types of websites are rumored to try and get people to pay money in order for something to be taken down.

COURT ORDER WHACK-A-MOLE WITH SEARCH ENGINES LIKE GOOGLE:  One of the biggest trends is to get a court order for removal and send it in to search engines like Google for de-indexing.  What de-indexing does is it removes the specific URL in question from the search engine’s index in that particular country.  I make this jurisdictional statement because countries in the European Union have a “Right to be Forgotten” law and search engines like Google are required to remove content from searches stemming from Europe but, that is not the law in the US.  The laws are different in other countries and arguably, Google doesn’t have to remove anything from their searches in the US.  Going back to our story with John, Jane and company XYZ, if Jane manages to litigate the matter and get a court order for the removal of the URL to the posting from search engine index, then, in theory, Jane’s name or company wouldn’t be associated with the posting.

Now this all sounds GREAT, and it seems to be one of the better solutions employed by many attorneys on behalf of their clients, BUT there are even a few problems with this method and it becomes a game of legal whack-a-mole:

  1. A website could change the URL which would toss it back into the search engine’s index and make it searchable again.  The party would either have to get a new court order or, at least, submit the court order again to the search engine with the new court order.
  2. If sending the Court Order to Google, Google will typically post a notice to their search results that a search result was removed pursuant to a court order and give a link to the Lumen Database where people can see specifically what URLs were removed from their index and any supporting documentation.  This typically includes the court order which may, or may not, include information relating to the offending content, etc.  Anyone can then seek out the court case information and, in many cases, even pull the subject Complaint from online and learn exactly what the subject report said and learn whether or not the case was heard on the merits or if the case was entered by default or some other court related process.  Arguably, the information really isn’t gone fore those who are willing to do their homework.
  3. The first amendment and many state privilege laws allow the press, bloggers, etc. to make a story out of a particular situation so long as they quote exactly from a court record.  No doubt a court record relating to defamation will contain the exact defamatory statements that were posted on the internet.  So, for example, any blogger or journalist living in a jurisdiction that recognizes the privilege law, without condition on defamation, could write a story about the situation, post the exact content verbatim out of the court record as part of their story, and publish that story online, inclusive of the defamatory content, without liability.

The up-hill battle made WORSE by content scrapers.

With all that I have said above, which is really just a 10,000 foot view of the underlying jungle, poor Jane in my example has one heck of an up-hill battle regarding the defamatory content.  Further, in my example, John only posted on one review website.   Now enter the content scrapers who REALLY muck up the system causing headache for authors, for defamation plaintiffs, and for website providers like review websites.

CONTENT SCRAPERS:  When I say “content scrapers,” for the purpose of this blog article, I am referring to all of these new “review websites” that are popping up all over who, to get their start, appear to be systematically scraping (stealing) the content of other review websites that have been around for a long time and putting it on their own websites.  Why would anyone do this you ask?  Well, I don’t know exactly but I could surmise that it: 1) content helps their rankings online which helps generate traffic to their websites; 2) traffic to a website helps bring in advertising dollars to the ads that are running on their websites; and 3) if they are out of country (which many appear to be outside of the United States) they don’t really give a crap and can solicit money for people who write and ask for content to be taken down.  I sometimes refer to these websites as copycat websites.

CONTENT SCRAPERS CAUSE HEADACHES FOR AUTHORS:  Many people have their favorite review website that they turn to to seek out information on – be it Yelp for reviews on a new restaurant they want to try, TripAdvisor for people’s experience with a particular hotel or resort, or any other online review websites…it’s a brand loyalty if you will.  An author has the right to choose which website they are willing to post their content on and, arguably, that decision could be based in part on the particular website’s Terms of Service as it would relate to their content.  For example, some websites will allow you to edit and/or remove content that you post while other websites will not allow you to remove or edit content once it is posted.  I’d like to think that many people look  to see how much flexibility is provided with respect to their content before they chose which forum to post it on.

When a copycat website scrapes/steals content from another review website they are taking away the author’s right to choose where their content is placed.  Along the same lines, the copycat websites may not provide an author with the same level of control over their content.  Going back to my John, Jane and XYZ example, if John posted his complaint about Jane on a website that allowed him to remove it at his discretion, it’s entirely possible that a pre-litigation settlement could be reached where John voluntarily agreed to remove his posting or, John decided to do so on his own accord after he cooled down and realized he made a big mistake posting the false and defamatory posting about Jane online.  However, once a copycat website steals that content and places it on their website, John not only has to argue over whether or not he posted the content on another website but also may not be able to enter into a pre-litigation settlement or remove it at his own direction.  In fact, there is a chance that the copycat website will demand money in order to take it down – and then, who knows how long it will even stay down.  After all the copycat website doesn’t care about the law because stealing content is arguably copyright infringement.

CONTENT SCRAPERS CAUSE HEADACHE FOR DEFAMATION PLAINTIFFS:  As discussed within this article, defamation plaintiffs have an up-hill battle when it comes to pursuing defamation claims and trying to get content removed from the internet.  It almost seems like a losing battle but that appears to be the price paid for keeping the freedom of speech alive and keeping a level of transparency.  Indeed, there is value to not stifling free speech.  However, when people abuse their freedom of speech and cross the line online, such as John in my example, it makes life difficult for plaintiffs.  It’s bad enough when people like John post it on one website, but when a copycat website then steal content from other review websites, and post it to their website(s), the plaintiff now has to fight the battle on multiple grounds.  Just when a plaintiff will make headway with the original review website the stolen content will show up on another website.  And, depending on the copycat website’s own Terms of Service, there is a chance that it won’t come down at all and/or the copycat website will demand money to have the content, that they stole, taken down.  Talk about frustrating!

CONTENT SCRAPERS CAUSE HEADACHE FOR REVIEW WEBSITES:  When it comes to online review sites, it’s tough to be the middle man…and by middle man I mean the operator of the review website.  The raging a-holes of the world get pissed off when you don’t allow something “over the top” to be posted on their website and threaten to sue – arguing you are infringing on their first amendment rights.  The alleged defamation victims of the world get pissed off when you do allow something to get posted and threaten to sue because well – they claim they have been defamed and they want justice.  The website operator gets stuck in the middle having zero clue who anyone is and is somehow supposed to play judge and jury to thousands of postings a month?  Not that I’m trying to write myself out of a job but some of this stuff gets REALLY ridiculous and some counsel are as loony as their clients.  Sad but true.  And, if dealing with these kinds of issues wasn’t enough, enter the exacerbators, i.e, the copycat websites.

To begin with, website operators that have been around for a long time have earned their rankings.  They have had to spend time on marketing and interacting with users and customers in order to get where they are – especially those that have become popular online.  Like any business, a successful one takes hard work.  Copycat websites, who steal content, are just taking a shortcut to the top while stepping on everyone else.  They get the search engine ranking, they get the advertising dollars, and they didn’t have to do anything for it.  To top it off, while the algorithms change so often and I am no search engine optimization (SEO) expert, I suspect that many of the original websites may see a reduction in their own rankings because of the duplicative data online.  Reduced rankings and traffic may lead to a reduction in revenue.

I like to think that many website operators try hard to find a happy medium between freedom of speech and curtailing over the top behavior.  That’s why websites have terms of service on what kind on content is allowed and not allowed and users are expected to follow the rules.  When a website operator learns of an “over the top” posting or other situation that would warrant removal or redaction, many website operators are eager to help people.  What is frustrating is when a website feels like they are helping a person only to get word days later that the same content has popped up elsewhere online – meaning a copycat website.  In some instances people wrongly accuse the original website for being connected to the copycat website and the original website is left to defend themselves and try to convince the person their accusations are inaccurate.  There is the saying of “no good deed goes unpunished” and I think that it is true for website operators in that position.

As the new-age saying goes “The Struggle is Real!”

I don’t know what the solution is to all of these problems.  If you have kept up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series that I have been working on over the past year, you know that I REALLY disapprove of people abusing the internet.  I support the freedom of speech but I also think that the freedom of speech shouldn’t give one a license to be a-hole either.  I don’t know that there is a bright line rule for what content should and should not be acceptable…but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in Jacobellis v. Ohio back in 1964 to describe his threshold for obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”  For me, after having seen so much through work and just in my own personal life, I think that is true.  My hope is that if I keep talking about these issues and hosting educational seminars and workshops in effort to raise awareness perhaps people may join my mission.  I firmly believe that we can ALL do better with our online actions…all we need is a little education and guidance.

Until next time friends…

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet – Part 7 | Freedom of Speech – the Double Edged Sword

If you’ve been keeping up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series you know I believe that: the Internet sucks (well, it can suck); we as a society have lost the human connection and mannersopinions are like poop (we need more courtesy flushes); no one really likes the person who crosses the line onlinewords DO hurt; and that my hope is that people can dig down and make America KIND again…and that really goes for the rest of the world caught up in the three-ring circus without a ring-master that is life.  This of course begs the question: what is the root cause of the problem?  I could run a poll of 1,000 different people and I suspect I could get 1,000 different answers to that question.  So let’s look at one concept:  Freedom of Speech.

I know this is a huge topic and there is no way I could touch on all aspects but recently a situation occurred that made me look at both sides of the freedom of speech coin.  Sure, I have thought about it a lot – especially given the nature of my line of work – but this was different.  You know, the funny thing about freedom of speech is that rarely does one dislike it unless and until something is said or written negatively about them or it otherwise provokes negative emotions within.  And, I suppose it goes without saying, that what one person finds offensive will often not be the same, at least to the same degree, as the next person.  I believe that each person and their perspectives are shaped by their unique set of circumstances in life – upbringing, religion, education, and personal life experiences.  For example, one who may have been brought up in a family where there was domestic violence in the home may have a much deeper and more passionate emotion on the subject than one who didn’t have such trauma in their life growing up.  Someone could joke about it to someone that hasn’t experience it and it may come across funny.  However, the same joke to the person who has experienced it may not find it so funny.  The thing is, there really is not a “bright line” rule and therefore leaves a lot of room for disagreements.

Let’s look at freedom of speech in a social context:  Typically if something is said more generally – it’s likely to be less offensive to an individual.  Someone might say “I don’t like the president!” and while some people may disagree with that opinion they are not likely to take it personally.  That’s because  it’s not about them personally.  But what happens when criticism is directed towards a specific individual?  I don’t know a single person that likes criticism of any kind.  True, some people take criticism better than others but still, even constructive criticism, can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being depending on how the information is presented.

I don’t think Newton’s Third Law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” applies only to motion.  Think about kids on the playground; one kid says something mean or does something mean to another kid, the first reaction, right or wrong, for the kid on the receiving end is to do something mean back – whether it be harsh words or physical violence.  The internet has, in many respects, become a giant sandbox full of bratty little children – except, most people interacting online aren’t “children.”  Someone expresses their negative opinion, or worse – maybe makes up some kind of total BS, about someone online and then what happens?  The person who got called out, out of hurt feelings and anger, will likely come up with something equally as mean, or worse, back.  It’s like a perpetual fight that never seems to end, and, worse yet, the playground fight is online, for all to see, FOREVER.  Then what sets in is the fools remorse that I talk about in my presentations and briefly in my article that speaks on the topic of crossing the line online…and many times there isn’t much that can be done about it.  You can’t un-ring a bell.

Final thoughts:  Be careful with your words in person, and especially online.  It’s okay for you exercises your free speech right to voice your opinion about things, but if you do it about someone specifically, right or wrong, you should be prepared and understand that there is a good chance that the person who you wrote about may exercise their freedom of speech, possible with “playground tactics,” to come back with the same, or even worse, reaction.  And remember, not all opinions are created equal.  Sometimes it’s okay to give an opinion a “courtesy flush.

Until next time friends.

 

 

You Named Your Kid What?! Brilliant!

Have you ever read a celebrity tabloid and thought “Why in the world anyone ever name their kid that?”  I know I have.  For example, in an article by Australian KidSpot.com.au, they listed off “Celebrity baby names top 20 – the crazy list.”  The top name listed?  Pilot Inspektor.  Yes, you read that right and I didn’t goof on the spelling…Pilot Inspektor.  Now, traditionally I would chuckle and think such a name was just goofy…until today.  It dawned on me that in today’s internet world, arguably – and I know how silly it sounds – you are almost doing your child a favor by giving them a very unique name and/or unique spelling of their name. Let me explain more.

A while ago I blogged about the potential pitfalls to otherwise good business names. Indeed, so many new businesses fall victim to picking out an awesome name for their new business only to find out months later – post legal documents, marketing materials, etc., that another business, perhaps located elsewhere in the country – that the similarly named business has a bad rap online.  Unfortunately, the untrained consumer may think that the two businesses are one in the same and thus, you brand new business already has a “bad reputation” and that new business hasn’t even done anything wrong.  Heck, you might not have even officially launched!

Interestingly, the concept regarding business name and reputation ALSO applies to individuals too.  I once thought I had a unique name until I ran a search on Google and realized that there were a few people in the country with my exact same name, in some cases even the same spelling, and in one instance, the lady was also in the legal field!  Did I mention she also had long dark hair like me too?  Talk about a creepy coincidence.  But let’s say for example that one of these other Anette Beebes were out in the world doing bad things, or perceived bad things, that people were writing about on public forums?  I know people looking for ME would think, or at least question, whether or not those postings were about actually about me…when obviously it wasn’t.  Wow…yeah, let that sink in for a minute?

Of course, there isn’t much that I can do about it now unless I want to legally change my name to something different…like the story of that one British guy that allegedly changed his name to “Captain Fantastic Faster Than SuperMan SpiderMan Batman Wolverine The Hulk And The Flash Combined.”  The way the description reads he might as well just changed his name to Usain Bolt…but I guess that was already taken.  There is also always doing what most people do, explain it away if given the opportunity.  But what can the child having population do?  Name their kids like a celebrity!  Come up with something totally out there and wacky.

I know!  It’s sounds crazy writing it too…and part of this is kind of in jest (although there is always some shred of truth to jest) but think about it.  If you  named your kid something CRAZY and spelled a name with awkward phonetics, chances of that child being mistaken for someone else is probably going to be drastically reduced.  Celebrity parents who name their kids goofy names…way to be a head of the times – even if you don’t know it.  Maybe, for the sake of  their kid’s future reputations or purely out of having a sense of humor, other non-celebrity parents will consider following suit

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If you find this comical or have unique names that you have heard please share them in the comments.  We all can use a good giggle now and then.

Snapchat Story Hit Home With Students

If you read my last blog article discussing how Kids Get the Short End of the Lesson Learning Stick, you know that I think that the internet today has a way of prohibiting kids from learning lessons “the old fashioned way.”  As part of my mission to educate kids (and adults) on the very serious issues that I have seen evolve out of one’s use of the Internet I decided to start guest speaking and my very first stop was my personal home town.

Last Monday I spent my time up at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside, Arizona giving a presentation to the students regarding Internet use and the repercussions of the same.  This wasn’t your traditional “bullying is bad” speech that most kids get.  This was a full blown actions and consequences from the same speech.  If you want kids to have a clue, you have to tell them why things are bad…not just “be nice because bullying is bad” and use current examples.  Remember, chances are these kids are far more tech savvy than we could even dream of being!

20160516 - BRHS - Junior-Senior - Q2 re Top 4 Social Media platforms

Part of my presentation involves students taking an online quiz.  Out of the 56 students that responded from Session 2 (Junior and Senior students only) I learned that Snapchat was the most popular medium of Social Media being used by the students, following closely by Instagram and Twitter.  Upon learning this I used a very timely article that I just read about involving Snapchat as a teaching opportunity.  I discussed the recent story that has been floating around in mainstream media (e.g. Washington Post, CNN Money, etc.) about the 18 year old girl who was trying to take a selfie, while driving her father’s Mercedes with passengers in the vehicle, at a speed of over 100 mph, just so that she could apply a Snapchat filter to her selfie showing how fast she was going.  According to the articles, the girl ran into another driver causing him permanent injuries and the victim is now suing Snapchat under a product liability theory.  You can read the entire article as published by the Washington Post HERE.  Be prepared to be a little upset over it.

I explained to the students that not only will this girl likely face criminal and civil problems (and fees for counsel relating to the same) but I also talked about how this has become national news; that since she is over the age of 18 her name is plastered all over the internet in connection to her mistake; and to consider the comments that the general public is posting in relation to the article.  I told the kids that people are crazy and if you read the comments, some wanted that girl dead!  Sure it is harsh, but it’s the truth and I told them that this girl is probably the recipient of some serious hate mail because, for whatever reason, that is what this world thinks is right to do.  Indeed, not only does this young girl have to deal with the fact that her actions hurt someone very bad for the rest of her life, and deal with potential civil and criminal claims, but also may have to deal with hate mail…and that her family may also be subject to the same kind of ridicule.  I drove those points home.

Just looking at their faces as I told the story; the number of side conversations that ensued; and the questions that I received from the audience told me they were listening!  They were really listening!

I have been saying for a long time that education needs to happen now and I am pleased to be apart of that process!  If you have or know of a school or youth group that you think need to hear more about this topic, from someone who really understands and can present the information in an informative and entertaining way, consider sending that person this blog article or contact me.  I am currently booking lectures for students (and adults) for 2016 through June 2017.

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.

 

Kids Get the Short End of the Lesson Learning Stick

There is a reason that many of us joke that we sure are glad that we were “young and dumb” before the advent of the internet and technology like smart phones with built in digital cameras, etc.

In my day, being “young and dumb” wasn’t the societal crime that it is made out to be today.  Not because stupid things didn’t happen but mostly because no one knew about the ridiculous things that happened – well except for those few people, usually some friends, that were around at the time.  Sure, there might have been rumors about what happened, but typically there wasn’t evidence of it.  For many of us, were lucky if we had a 35mm camera which required actual film that you had to take to someone to be developed by some stranger…and if you were from a small town, maybe it wasn’t even a stranger.  If you were really lucky, you might have had a Polaroid which gave you instant pictures!  That was as close to “instant” as you got.  Even then, unless you showed that particular picture to every single person in the entire school…not that many people knew that it even existed.  And hidden videos…yeah, have you ever tried to take a “secret” video with a device that required a VHS and had to be carried on your shoulder?  Bullying?  Yeah, it existed…but at least then there were ways to get away from it.  Indeed, while we may not have had all these new advances in technology, in a lot of ways, we were actually really lucky!

We didn’t have social media postings that spread like wildfire and fistfights that got caught on tape.  We weren’t taking selfies and posting half naked pictures of ourselves for the general public to see and basing our self worth on “likes” and “shares.”  More importantly, if we made a dumb mistake, we often had the typical punishment handed down from parents, the school, or maybe the authorities if it was more “drastic” but even then…very few knew about it and, generally speaking, it didn’t haunt you for the rest of your life.  It wasn’t blasted on the internet for the whole world to see…forever.  It’s made even worse by our current news media who pick up a story presumably for “ratings” and call it news…meanwhile the kids, and their futures, are really suffering.  Indeed, back in the day kids could do dumb things, learn from their mistakes, and grow into respectable and responsible adults that have nothing more but stories to tell and wisdom to pass on to younger generations.  Not anymore.  Kids get the short end of the lesson learning stick…

Of course there is an exception to every rule…but generally speaking, kids (and adults) now have to be smarter and think ahead far more than ever before.  As I discuss in Part 4 of my blog series of Fighting Fair on the Internet, not only could you be banned from usage of platforms, but you could get into fights, you could end up with creepy stalkers, you could have a run in with the law – both criminal and civil (even if you tell the truth), you could permanently be scared by something that can’t be removed, and you could lose out on wonderful opportunities – for jobs, college, volunteer organizations, and relationships…and over what?  Some dumb shenanigan that you tried to pull or some other posting made by either yourself, or someone else – that can be haunting forever.

It is clear that times have changed.  Drastically…and unless you are in a position to see and deal with all of the repercussions of what goes on, us adults may not even really know the full extent of what goes on and what can happen.  After all, I myself was completely naive about many things until I got into the current area of law and career path that I am in.  But I have seen a lot – and what I can tell you is that kids (and adults) need some serious education.  I’m not just taking about not being a bully…but far beyond that!

Next Monday I will be giving a presentation to a fully body of High School students on internet use and the consequences of the same.  I have been saying for a long time that education needs to happen now and I am pleased to start that process!  If you have or know of a school or youth group that you think need to hear more about this topic, from someone who really understands and can present the information in an informative and entertaining way, consider sending that person this blog article or contact me.  I am currently booking lectures for students (and adults) for 2016 through June 2017.

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet: Part 5 | Words DO Hurt

13139249_10153931221552819_4713360848051877835_nToday, while taking a mental/emotional break from the negative stress and duties that my line of work brings to me, I stumbled across this picture on a social media post.  The quote “The tongue has no bones, but it is strong enough to break a heart.  So be careful with your words.”  Given all that I have experienced in life, and all that I see through my career path right now, I can tell you that this is such a powerful and true statement.  Words do hurt…and while the focus used to be on what is being said verbally, now with a majority of our communications being electronic and we have seemingly lost the human connection because of it, now more than ever, it counts for the written word as well.

STICKS AND STONES:  Yes, I am well aware of the old saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.”   You know, to an extent that is true.  People can say what they want but it’s not like anyone is going to take away your birthday with words.  I also think that people need to have a certain level of a thick skin and ability to cope because some people are just giant jerks…but life does go on.  People grow up, people learn to move past their own hurt that causes them to feel the need to hurt others, they learn from their mistakes, change their attitudes, break bad habits, and so on.  So to all the “suck it up buttercup” minded people…I can agree…to an extent.  I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have if I let everyone who said an unkind word to me really get to me.  In fact, in some instances, it was only fuel to my fire for working hard to become better…better at whatever they were trying to tear me down over.

IT’S A DIFFERENT WORLD: At the same time, we are living in an entirely different world today.  We have adults who don’t really understand the types of bullying and harassment that can go on now.  Consequently that means that when their children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, come to them with problems relating to bullying now…they don’t really have an idea on how to address it.  Heck, I know a lot of adults that don’t even know how to address it because it’s not just an issue targeting youth – many adults are now the subject of attacks, be it personally or maybe through reviews of their business.  Now, of course, there is some basics and wisdom that we can all draw upon from when we were young…but there are other dynamics that are involved.  It’s not because us “older” people are stupid and don’t know what it is like to be bullied – it’s just different…and in many cases, way worse than any of us ever had it growing up because we didn’t have all of this instant access and technology.  More and more we are hearing stories of kids killing themselves because of bullying.  I’ve read the stories – it’s heartbreaking.  And why?  What is the root cause?  Is it because the kids are being coddled too much and lack coping skills?  Or is it because of the new ways that people are being targeted through the use of technology and the seeming inability to get away from it?

STORY THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Coinciding with this exact topic, many years ago, in my early 20s (before all this social media stuff) I had a friend forward to me an e-mail that had been circulating.  My friend knew that I had been going through a rough time in my life and I was struggling with my own reactions to what others were saying to me.  Up until that point, there were times that I could be equally unkind to someone when pushed.  Nevertheless, that one silly little e-mail, for whatever reason, resonated with me and forever changed the way I thought about the words that I would speak (or write) to someone.  Because it was so impressionable upon me I will share a version of the same “Nails in the Fence” story here:

There once was a little girl who had a bad temper.  Her mother gave her a bag of nails, and told her that every time she lost her temper, she must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the girl had driven 37 nails into the fence.

Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails she hammered into the fence each day gradually dwindled.

She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than it was to drive the nails into the fence.

Finally, the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all, and she went to find her mother…

When she proudly told her mother that she was able to control her anger, and didn’t need to hammer any more nails into the fence, her mother suggested that she now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper.The days passed and the girl was finally able to go back to her mother and tell her that she had pulled out all the nails from the fence.

The mother took her daughter by the hand and together they went to the fence.

She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same again. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like these ones that have been left by the nails.  You can put a knife in someone and draw it out.  But it won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound will still be there.  A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.”

When I read that story, I realized that I was a lot like that little girl in the story.  In conversations with friends about life I have repeated versions of this story to explain my way of thinking and why I don’t “fight back” sometimes.  After all, when you are in an argument there is nothing more frustrating than when someone gets silent and gives the “silent treatment.”  But to be honest, my silence is out of respect.  Respect for myself, and respect for the person I am in a disagreement with.  You see, I remember every harsh word uttered to me by those I loved the most.  I also remember all the harsh words that were uttered to me by people I didn’t even care so much about.  What I learned from this, through self reflection, is that people will likely remember any words that I say out of anger…even if I later apologize, because I remember.  What I don’t really remember is all the times people were silent.  I rather people struggle to remember all of the times I got silent rather than live with scars from harsh words that I could have said when I was angry.

TAKE A BREATHER AND BE MINDFUL OF YOUR WORDS:  When you are dealing one-on-one,  with someone in person, it’s always important to be mindful of your words…regardless of age.  Children are the most impressionable.  Furthermore, understanding that we are living in a different world, where written words can be out on the internet FOREVER, it’s important that each of us take extra care in what we write.  You might be angry today, but as with all things in life and as my grandfather used to say, “this too shall pass.”  Before you go all keyboard warrior on someone, take the time to calm down, breathe, and determine if what you are about to write will REALLY serve a purpose that is positive down the road.  If the answer is yes, chose your words wisely and remember the “Nails in the Fence” story.  If the answer is no, let go of the ego, and remain silent.  What you write today can haunt you, and someone else, for life…and life is way too short to live with that kind of a burden.

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.

 

 

Fighting Fair on The Internet: Part 4 | Crossing the Line Online – Don’t be THAT Guy!

If you have been keeping up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 you are already aware that I think that most of the issues we see happening today are due to the increased use of technology, the loss of real human connection, and that so many people give opinions that really are nothing more than a “turd trophy” and should be “flushed” down the proverbial toilet.  So many people have developed some odd level of narcissism wherein they feel compelled to step into a conversation, not involving them, and render some kind of a comment, often from a place of needing to be “right,” that really does nothing but perpetuate negativity in one form or another.  This type of action is akin to the bumbling belligerent drunk guy (or girl) at the bar who walks up to a table of friends having a conversation and adding in his/her “two cents” (that’s my sarcastic way of saying the person said something offensive) based on a single sentence that was overheard.  No one really likes THAT person at that point in time.  After all, no one asked stumbling Captain Drunko, who might smell like a soggy bar towel, to come interrupt the conversation to give his polished turd trophy of an opinion…and a lot of times either THAT person ends up getting kicked out of the bar, getting their butt kicked, or THAT person feels like a total d-bag the next day once his/her friends informs him/her of the prior nights “entertainment.”  Maybe you have seen THAT person before.  Maybe you have even been THAT person a time or two.  Perhaps you have been on both sides of that coin in the past.  Regardless, and I pass no judgment here – crap happens, but you know what I am talking about.

Just as there can be consequences for being a belligerent and obnoxious drunk person at a bar (getting 86’d, getting your butt kicked, having the law get involved and possibly having to pay fines, and what I call “fool’s remorse”) there can also be very similar consequences for what you write on the internet.  I am not going to touch on the problems that can arise for people who get online and write a truthful account of a situation; that, along with many other issues, are for later parts to this series.  What I am going to get into here, in a very broad sense, is what can happen when you cross the line when posting online.

GETTING 86’D:  So you spout off and you get “kicked out” of the joint.  This seems like the least of potential problematic ramifications and maybe you don’t care if you get banned from a particular chat room or social media outlet.  In today’s technological world, chances are you’d just find a way around the system anyway.  I personally can think of many options and a lot of them are hard for any typical website administrator to actually detect and keep up with.  Nevertheless, if you have spent a lot of time building up friends, connections, adding photos or other content that may no longer be on your computer/phone, etc. this might be detrimental to you.  That cute picture of you and granny that you posted to your private account before she passed away or that video of that baby’s first steps…GONE FOREVER…if you do something that results in your account being suspended.

GETTING YOUR BUTT KICKED:  Just like the drunkard at the bar who gets out of hand with the wrong people can wind up on the receiving end of a serious butt kicking, when you get online and start spouting off, you never really know who you are spouting off to and what kind of a person they are.  It’s made even worse if you are like most people and don’t control your security settings on your social media very well.  Chances are you give out WAY too much information about yourself.  That is another topic for another day.  Nevertheless, you would be surprised at how much information people can gather from the tid-bits that people just leave open to public access.  What happens if you spout off and the person happens to be some major creeper with bad intentions?  They figure out who you are, who your friend and family are, and eventually where you all work and live.  Are you okay with that?  Okay…for all you tough guys out there saying you’d just meet them at the door and shoot them (hey, I support the Second Amendment too)…let’s be real here.  There is always the possibility that someone could come find you, or your unsuspecting family, and do something.  There is enough chaos on the news to prove that there are crazy people out there willing to go to drastic extremes.  I don’t know that I need to go on here…you all get my point.

THE LAW:  This is the one that I see the most of due to the nature of my position in the legal field.  If you get all worked up about something and then get online to spout off, especially if you embellish the story or otherwise purposefully tell a lie as a way to “get even” with someone for something, chances are, eventually, you are going to have to face some legal consequences for that.  Generally speaking, unless the account you give is opinion or is 100% the truth, what you say “can and will be held against you in a court of law.”  The most common cases in these situations are defamation actions that may be associated with additional causes of action depending on what you say.  Yes, there are defenses to defamation actions (truth and opinion being a few of them) however, so many people seemingly are confused about the difference between a statement of fact and an opinion.  Just because you say “In my opinion…” and then go on to make some sort of allegation doesn’t necessarily make that statement an opinion.  Remember, you have the right to free speech, but that is not absolute.  Just as you can’t run into a movie theater and yell “fire!” you can’t commit defamation without a very real potential for legal consequences…typically expensive ones.  You work hard for your money…do you really want to have to give it to the person, and their attorneys, that you were mad at in the first place?

FOOL’S REMORSE:  We have all done something at one or another that we aren’t exactly proud of.  It’s even worse if whatever occurred happened in public.  There is a reason that a lot of us “older kids” say that we are sure glad that were were “young and dumb” before smart phones and social media were around.  No seriously, it’s true!  Some things just DON’T need to make it to the public!  This whole “social media” thing has become, well, too social.  It  seems like long gone are the days of keeping “dirty laundry” in the hamper where it belongs.  Now, if you have a dispute with someone, chances are, for better or worse, someone, somewhere is going to talk about it on the internet.  Further, now with the ease and convenience of being able to post online under the perceived cloak of “anonymity,” more and more people are openly hanging out their dirty laundry for everyone to see.  Hell hath no furry like the wrath of an angry ex…ex-boyfriend/girlfriend,  ex-husband/wife, ex-business partner, etc.  Instead of dealing with matters in private, people are now dragging their disputes online and saying things, usually based on emotion at the time, that can be very hurtful.  To top it off, once something is up online, depending on where you put it, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to remove.  Well, what happens when your feelings for that person change?  You know, like after you have had the time to calm down and truly get over those feelings?  If you are the “normal” person, whatever that means, you are probably going to feel bad about it…but you may not be able to rectify that situation.  Then, not only is the person that you decided to spew emotional word vomit all over feeling the pain, you are too.  It’s just not worth it!

This obviously has been a brief overview, however, I think it will probably resonate with many.  There are so many people going out and “running at the mouth” online before they really take time to consider the consequences of their actions.  These rants can impact not only you, but those around you.  Remember friends, in this context, temporary solutions can become permanent problems.  If you REALLY need to get something off of your chest, and want to write about it, go “old school” and grab a pen and paper!  Not only will you get the cathartic release from being able to get those emotions out on paper but it will also help keep you from getting into trouble.  You can always toss the paper in the trash when that emotion dissipates…  If that doesn’t work, save yourself a lot of grief by talking to a friend or family member that is going to help you calm down and steer you in a positive direction…  Oh, and watch out for those “friends” that want to instigate and entice you into being THAT guy.  In our bar scenario from above…that would be the friend that likes to order you shot after shot, get you riled up and push you into the crowd just to see “what happens.”  Yeah…that “good time Charlie” probably isn’t the right person to go to when you need this kind of help.

Until next time friends…

P.S. – If any of this resonates with you, or you agree with that I have said, please consider sharing this article and/or leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear your feedback and/or about your personal experiences.