Editor’s Note: I’m very pleased to provide you with a guest post by Chris Anderson, founder of Cyber Investigation Services, LLC. Chris writes to inform you of the different options available to you when it comes to Internet defamation and online reputation management.
Help, my company is under attack by some psychopath!!!
As a cyber investigation group that works worldwide in helping companies and individuals deal with Internet reputation attacks, this is how many of our hundreds of conversations per month start. Often, people are really asking if there is any way to get quick removal of damaging material that is being spread about their company online; and if so, are there ways to avoid future attacks by the same person?
The best answer I can tell you is “yes, there probably is a solution”. Let me explain.
After seeing so many different Internet attacks, what I have learned is that each situation is just a little bit different but yet companies and even their attorneys try to take a one size fits all approach. Some of the blanket rules-of-thumb that you hear are simply inaccurate, including:
- There is nothing you can do because of first amendment rights;
- You can never get anything down once on the Internet;
- It is simple, have an attorney write a cease & desist and that should solve it right away
- There is nothing you can do because the person is “anonymous”
These simple, off the cuff rules-of-thumb often are not only misleading but frequently lead to the victim experiencing even more considerable damage over time.
Working with these types of situations regularly, I have developed some very interesting tools and tactics to deal with these kinds of online incidents. Unfortunately for many companies, they are not even aware that these types of solutions are possible.
For example, suppose you have an “anonymous” blogger who has set out to destroy the online reputation of your business by posting lots of false material that is very damaging. Since you follow Melissa’s work on her blog, you certainly understand what can be done from a crisis management perspective. However, there are two other ways to deal with these kinds of attacks:
First is a fast reaction approach that I discuss below.
Second, is the slower but steady approach of utilizing litigation tactics.
Typically, our philosophy is to try the faster, least expensive approaches first and then graduate up only as needed.
Step 1: The fast reaction approach
In this kind of scenario, typically, the simplest path to resolution is by working with the “bad guy” responsible for putting the material up in the first place. If we can interact with this/these individual(s), we might be able to persuade them to change their course of action. While there are several other tactics that come into play, for purposes of this blog article, lets concentrate on antagonists.
Once we (you the client and I, the cyber investigator) choose the path of interacting with the culprit in an attempt to change their course of action, then our focus should be how to “get inside their head”.
Let me explain.
When it comes to the Internet, many of the “bad guys” think that nobody can catch them and often they don’t even care if you have an attorney send them a threatening letter, since they believe the attorney can’t catch them either.
Now, these are actually some of my favorite kinds of antagonists because they believe they can remain hidden. My job is, quite simply, to try to destroy that belief that they cannot be caught. If I can destroy that belief then we can often resolve the situation quickly and cost effectively. This often involves me coming in and role playing to obtain as much information as possible about the unknown antagonist. This information potentially includes IP address, city, state, browser type, operating system, and other valuable data. All of this is a very legal, ethical tactic to utilize as a licensed investigator.
Let’s set the scene
Imagine for a second that you are the antagonist. You know that you’re doing something that can get you in trouble, but are confident that you have done a good job at hiding your identity and remaining anonymous. Typically, as you gain more and more confidence in your ability, often your attacks will become more and more bold. Soon, you become convinced that you are bullet proof and no local cop or attorney is going to find you.
As you are going about your attacks, suppose somebody successfully engages you in an anonymous conversation online. Boy, this is getting better and better you think because people are coming out of the woodwork with all kinds of comments! What you may not realize is that in this process, you may have unknowingly given up a lot of information about yourself.
Suddenly, the tables are turned upside down on you. You’re being contacted by an investigator from a global investigation firm and this investigator starts to reveal information about you that you didn’t think anybody could know. Examples might include your IP address, your city, your Internet service provider and other juicy tidbits that you prefer no one know. The investigator then explains that their client is considering hiring attorneys to uncover your ID during a litigation process. Once you look at the information uncovered by the investigator, you realize that even though they don’t have your name yet, it is simply a matter of time.
At this point, your belief of being able to remain hidden is totally destroyed. Often, somewhere in this process, the culprit decides to remove the damaging information and it “magically” disappears. Furthermore, the “bad guy” now goes from being aggressive in nature through his anonymous defamatory attacks, to now hoping that this whole mistake simply goes away. S/he realizes that they are “busted” and that it’s just a question of what steps the victim chooses to take next.
Let me give you another example that I see all the time. Suppose you have a company that has someone e-mail – anonymously of course – 2,000 of your best clients about fraud that is occurring within the company. While this allegation is completely false, you’ve just had 2,000 of your best clients be told that this “secret employee” has information that shows you’re running a crooked operation.
I have seen this exact scenario many times over in large organizations and it often brings them to their knees overnight. Everybody on the company’s board is wondering what is going to happen next. While something like this almost always ends in litigation, the process is too slow to stop the next wave of attacks.
Without getting into the gory details, I can do similar kinds of sting operations as outlined above. I can often gain information about the person that utilized the e-mails. I can then reach out to them, let them know that they’re in serious jeopardy on pending litigation and frequently I can try to avoid the next round of attacks.
What I want you to take away from this article
The moral of the story is that if you are in a high stakes reputational or brand attack that you believe is falsely putting you in a bad light, there ARE things that you can do to both protect your brand’s reputation and stop the culprit from continuing to anonymously attack your company online. There is a rather large bag of tricks to tap into that you may not have even been aware of. Online reputation management, when dealing with non factual – thus defamatory – online attacks is a serious situation that needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Hiring a cyber investigative service often provides you with options that you may not have even been aware of. Options that focus on stopping the online defamation and saving the reputation of your company or organization.