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  • November 2011
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Steven Wyer on Educationviews.org

Posted by Levine Communications Office on November 17, 2011

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) First of all, could you tell us a bit about your background?

Over the past 35 years I have held various professional licenses. I was formerly a principle in a regulated securities firm and have been involved in financial services for most of my professional carrier. I owned a recognized advertising agency that specialized in direct to consumer marketing for major banks. I have been awarded an Emmy for television production, Addy awards for design and packaging and have been recognized on local, regional and national levels for previous businesses demonstrating high growth, quality service and community involvement.

Due to federal allegations filed against me in 2001 relating to my business, documents considered a matter of public record found their way to the Internet. While it took more than three years for the federal courts to begin ruling in our favor, the information, once posted online, damaged my business, my family and my life. This negative content contributed significantly to the ultimate closure of those businesses. It was suggested that I review my own search results by a client. It was then that I realized firsthand the damage that information posted online could have. I knew that something had to be done to address what was being seen. As I defined how I might best influence my own search results, I looked around and was shocked to see literally millions of other people be hurt by online slander, half truths, complaints and outright lies.

We started Reputation Advocate in 2006. The firm provides SERM (search engine reputation management), online defense strategies and ORM (online reputation management) services. I released the book Violated Online in the Fall of 2011. The book tells real stories and offers real assistance for readers finding themselves in similar situations. It also offers practical tips on how to best protect and defend yourself online.

2) You have written a book called “ Violated On Line “. What brought this about? See my response above.

3) When you say “violated“ could you specifically define this term?

Let me offer a working definition of “online slander:”

Communication (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words) of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product or group a negative image. It is usually a requirement that the claim be false and acknowledges that the online slander is communicated to someone other than the person defamed.

Have you ever offered a review on Amazon? Ever commented on LinkedIn, MySpace, or Facebook? Can you imagine if something you posted in haste like a photo, blog comment, or a book review could be found and easily misinterpreted—or edited to suit a slanderous intention? What kind of claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that might give an individual, business, product or group a negative image could be written based upon your postings? What hurt and damage could that cause?

4)  What recourse does a person have when another makes a damaging statement or reveals confidential information?

When this damage/attack is done online, very little. Most such attacks are done anonymously so tracking the slander back sufficiently to take legal action is very challenging. Current federal laws protect the internet service providers (ISP) while leaving all of us exposed. Everything stands on the First Amendment relating to free speech. Regarding confidential information, there are few hard fast guidelines for what would be defined as “confidential”. There are guidelines that address such things as social security numbers, FEIN numbers, child pornography and eminent threat to the country. Most other information is considered fair game.

5)  Recently I found that something I had written was translated into another language and posted without my permission. Can someone in another country do that? What can I do (if anything )?

There is little recourse absent a formal copyright.

6) Are there attorneys that specialize in this kind of thing?

By “this type of thing” I assume that you are referring to online libel and slander. While there are individual attorneys that have some experience in this field, conventional litigation is seldom effective against such online content.

7) What recourse do I have?

Pragmatically speaking, very little. The best course of action to take is to get involved early and often in your online reputation management. Participate in content creation. Make sure that what is found is honest and transparent.

8) What about the posting of pictures- ? I am thinking of two teenagers who may have posed in the nude for each other- then they break up and something is posted on the Web. What recourse do they have legally?  What responsibilities do Yahoo, Google, Jeeves and all these other browsers or sites have?

http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py%3Fanswer=107107

9) Can you give us an example ( anonymously of course) as to the most egregious thing you have encountered and what the person was able to do about it?

A college professor is criminally charged with sexual misconduct. He is arrested, booked and formally charged. The university asks for his resignation. The media eat him up, his family is humiliated and his thirty-year career is destroyed. The professor is found completely innocent by a jury and it is disclosed at trial that the person who made the allegations and filed the police report had perpetrated the same smear tactic ten years prior at a different university.  The court expunges his record and no evidence of the nightmare exists—except online. The news stories remain; the student blogs and online jeers that take cheap shots at him still show up when his name is searched. Everything is still there. The professor finally decides to change vocations.

Our company, Reputation Advocate , is currently working with this man to correct and influence the search results found when his name is queried.

10)  I often see things being put up, taken down, put back up with a commercial, taken down again, then put back up, and then some copyright notice put back up- Are all these people so slippery or slimey nowadays?

Republished content even when it has been removed one or more times is now quite common.

11) Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as they say—what should parents be doing about their kids posting their thoughts on Facebook, and tweeting away like there is no tomorrow…?

Read the book Violated Online.

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