Lies and Libelous Statement Response

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**** Update 4/15/2016***** Another victim was kind enough to point out that there's a previous post that is almost identical to the one about me. 

There’s an ugly dark side of the internet, where hosting illegally made defamatory and libelous content is not only tolerated, but monetized for profit. One site that prides itself in never removing reports from its database is called Ripoff Report (ROR).

Is it Extortion? Court Rules It’s OK for Websites to Demand Money to Edit or Remove Negative Content.

I learned about the dark side of ROR when I found myself the target of a post

ROR is hosting a post by someone falsely claiming to be a former customer. The title is “… DON’T DO ANY BUSINESS WITH ROBERT WEINSTEIN … 1REASON INSURANCE AGENCY, EAU CLAIRE WI…”

I can understand the anger one would feel – IF - I had actually done what was posted, but I didn’t.

Keep in mind I’m a licensed professional in one of the most heavily regulated industries. Overlooking all agent's shoulders is the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. I sleep well at night knowing I treat my clients with the highest levels of respect and service. 

The hit-job was written so poorly, that once you begin to critically examine the lies, it becomes unequivocal they’re untrue.

Let me be VERY clear, the person who wrote the post NEVER had any type of insurance policy from me EVER. In addition, 1 Reason Insurance has never sent any type of marketing material requesting payment to review someone's insurance policy - Yet, the poster states she received a 3×5 mailing card from 1 Reason Insurance, requesting that she pay $100 to find the lowest rate.

It defies logic and should be the end of the conversation – 1 Reason Insurance and or Robert Weinstein doesn't charge for providing a quote, and I don't even know of an agent that does. In other words, Agents don’t sent postcards requesting payment to provide an auto quote. Often agents will send mail that they will provide a free quote, The poster is hoping most readers won’t take the effort to critically examine the lies.

She claims I failed to cancel a policy as requested.  This is untrue, and no customer has ever requested an early cancel that I did not honor.

Friends and associates have asked me questions and wonder how this is even possible. I thought I would also share the questions and answers so you may be better informed to protect yourself.

Why don’t I sue? 

Actually, it’s in process as I write. But not for the reason you may think.

I’ve been advised that Google and Bing have policies to usually de-index libelous content. I’m currently discovering how to sue a “Jon / Jane Doe”.  The post displays a name and states they’re in Chippewa Falls, but that’s not helpful when the entire post is fake. If there is someone by that name in Chippewa Falls, it’s not a current or former customer and almost certainly not the actual poster.

Who do I think posted it and why?  

Reasonable possibilities include:

  1. The post was made in retribution to a post I made (along with many others) a few weeks earlier about a company called Homeowners Advance. I haven’t seen other retribution posts to other victims, so I’m not totally convinced it was them, although the evidence strongly suggests they might be the perpetrators.
  2. A competitor. I’m not seriously entertaining this possibility. The local agents I know have honor, and focus their efforts towards their customers, and don't engage in this type of criminal activity.
  3. A reputation management business. I think the odds are small, albeit I can’t rule it out. It’s beyond the scope here, but anticipate reading more on this subject.
  4. ROR directly or through an agent. ROR is the only one that I'm aware of that directly profits by hosting libelous content about me.

Why don’t you just pay the site the $2000 they want to remove the post and be done with it?

  1. While it doesn’t pass my smell test to pay a website (such a large amount) to remove lies when I think they have a moral obligation to do so, if it was a one-time ransom and I could move on, I would have to consider it.

Unfortunately, based on my understanding of the email conversation with ROR’s legal department, they will allow at least some of the defamatory post to remain in their database, and the site will never completely erase it.  

  1. Obviously, someone is out to hurt me. What better way to hurt me than make a post, I pay $2000 to have only some of it removed, they make another post, I pay another $2000, rinse and repeat ad nauseum.  You can picture the moral hazard involved, and why I must approach this issue strategically.

ROR says they will allow you to post a rebuttal, will you?

                Yes, but very limited, which I will describe next.

What are your next steps?

After numerous hours wasted dealing with this, I wrote the response you're now reading.

I anticipate posting a brief rebuttal on ROR. I’ve been advised adding content to the posting through rebuttals gives the post more relevance and in turn pushes the content higher in search results. Also, by definition, the post is updated and “newer”, which of course makes the search engines, reexamine and index the content.  

In other words, the very act of a rebuttal is likely to cause more reputation damage than good. Rebuttals are placed below the original post, and regardless, are not helpful if someone doesn’t look past the defamatory title and first few words that are displayed in a search result.

After receiving a judgment, I will request the major search engines de-index the content, and ROR remove it completely.

The whole thing is a bad deal. It’s bad for my reputation, it’s bad for ROR's reputation, and it’s bad for the consumers that miss out on contractors, real estate agents, lawyers, and others with great service, but because a libelous post is allowed to remain, they never find out.

Until last week, I thought ROR was a good and useful site to warn others, and for avoiding danger myself. Now, I will never post anything, especially negative warnings there out of fear I may go through this again.  The owner of ROR, Ed Magedson, in response to my email flippantly stated I must have done something wrong to someone. Clearly, what I did wrong was write a post warning other agents. It’s a mistake that won’t be repeated, that’s for sure.

How often does someone become a victim of a libelous post that ROR maintains on its site?

I’m not alone, and if you think this is a one-off rare occurrence, think again.  This sort of thing happens often enough that numerous people have taken the time, effort, and expense to create entire websites and Facebook pages denouncing ROR, its policy, and management.

What gives websites the legal ability to host these posts?

Section 230 of the Decency Communications Act, and the courts that have ruled on it and it's allowed (despite the court also calling the practice "appalling" and "created a forum for defamation"). In a nutshell, because of Section 230 CDA, the site (and all websites) aren't required, and in this case, apparently doesn't perform any checks to prevent users of its website from posting false and defamatory statements, as stated in a Florida Court of Appeal Opinion. With just the slightest amount of effort and thought to mask your identity, ROR is perhaps the most effective vehicle to destroy anyone's reputation with impunity. If you're thinking you're safe from attack, you're not. At least no more safe than the willingness of any person to lie about you.

Let me leave you with this final thought. It only takes one person in the entire world willing to lie about you to completely destroy your reputation. It could be a competitor, an old boyfriend/girlfriend, former spouse, crazy neighbor, unreasonable customer, someone who doesn't agree with your political or religious beliefs, and on and on. If you have the "it just takes one" person out there, then the only thing preventing your name on the site is them finding out about the site.

If the site is willing to plaster a District Attorney's name on front page and keep it there, I don't need to explain why everyone who works in law enforcement and government in general is at risk of attack.

 

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