How do I deal with a defamatory blog post?
September 2, 2009 7:51 AM   Subscribe

What counts as defamation/libel on an online blog? A post was created that calls me gay (I am not) and says a lot of very negative and inaccurate things about my character. Any lawyer recommendations in DC?

There is someone who, for complicated psychiatric reasons, developed a severe dislike of me. This is an extraordinarily vindictive and immature girl whom I have NOT wronged in any remotely substantial way. She created an anonymous blog and posted alleging falsely that I'm gay and saying a number of inaccurate and very negative things about my character. (Basically, name-calling.) I'm concerned that this will affect future job prospects since the post appears within the first couple of pages of search results for my name. She confirmed to a mutual friend that she wrote the blog but refused to take it down. Google/blogspot says they don't take down defamatory posts without a court order.

What are my options, and what are the criteria under which a defamation/libel suit can be started? Is there something I can do short of a full blown lawsuit just to get the court order I would need to have Google/Blogspot take down the post? Does anyone have recommendations for lawyers in DC who handle this kind of thing? How much time and money is this likely to cost, and can I recover costs from the person who made the post?

By the way, to whatever extent this is relevant, the post itself was made in California but I reside in DC.

I am most grateful for any advice you guys have.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAL, but this page from the EFF may help you with the definition of defamation. I'm not in DC, so I can't help with lawyer recommendations, sorry.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:01 AM on September 2, 2009

Can you SEO spam the link off the first couple of pages? Not exactly ethical, but perhaps someone who knows what they're doing can help you drive it down the search results. I vaguely recall a similar post here where someone wanted to hide a comment made on a newspaper website when they were young and dim (does anyone know where this is?) and that seemed the best advice there.
posted by mippy at 8:07 AM on September 2, 2009

Calling you gay is not defamatory.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:20 AM on September 2, 2009

It's not defamatory, but if OP is not gay, it is libelous.

OP - if people think you are gay, and you clearly aren't, is this really likely to have a huge negative impact on your life or just lead to misunderstanding? also - is the blog clearly the work of a crazy person?
posted by mippy at 8:29 AM on September 2, 2009

Um, mippy, you can't have a libelous statement that is NOT defamatory, because, libel is defined as a defamatory statement that is written (or published in the electronic media age). Libel is just the name for one form of defamation, the other being slander.

So the question for the OP is, are there other defamatory statements in the blog?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:39 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

saying a number of inaccurate and very negative things about my character

I think we can assume that a lot more nasty (presumably false) things are said about him
posted by Think_Long at 8:45 AM on September 2, 2009

Lawyering up for a single blog post seems like an overreaction... Usually the threat of lawyering up is enough to get a post removed, which is what you likely want. A lawyer will charge you probably in the neighborhood of $125 an hour to try and contact her, and if she does not reply then to file in court will also cost you quite a bit of money.

My lawyer once told me that for any situation where I cannot win $5,000 I will lose money by retaining him. $5,000 was the break-even point for his services. Odds are for calling you "gay" you cannot prove damages, and will not get $5,000.

Contact her, threaten to lawyer up, and tell her to remove the post or you will lawyer up. Next, if that doesn't work, I suppose you can retain a lawyer and hopefully for $250-ish he will write you a nice, official looking, threatening letter to mail her. But beyond that...well, you have to have a lot more money to spend on this than I would to do anything.

Your other option is, of course, to contact whoever is hosting her blog. If you complain to them that there are libelous statements (and possibly even hate speech if "gay" is used in a defamatory way) perhaps the ISP/web host/whoever will take down the blog.
posted by arniec at 8:47 AM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

So what if you get called gay? What's so utterly terrible about that? The other stuff might be bad, I don't know, but unless you've a problem with homosexuals, why would it bother you? What if you were gay and someone called you straight. Would you still be offended?

There's really nothing wrong in being gay or even being thought of as being gay. *shakes head*
posted by stenoboy at 8:57 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want to talk about individual lawyers in DC or more options generally, you can MeMail me or send an email from a throwaway account to the one listed in my profile. Much of what has been said in this thread about costs is generally true, but these things tend to be very fact-specific depending on the parties involved.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:58 AM on September 2, 2009

I understand the concern of this being at the top of Google. As some people mentioned above, the only way to counter that permanently is to establish your own web presence and push the nonsense down the page.

Do you have a domain of www.[yourname].com, or if unavailable, [yourname] or something like that? If you are applying for jobs where they google you, you should have some kind of online presence anyway.

As for being called "gay," I can see both sides of it. Of course there is nothing wrong with being gay. However as a straight man, I'm sure potential dates have googled me, and I wouldn't be thrilled if that was the first thing they saw- in the exact same sense that if I was trying to date a guy, I wouldn't want him seeing a page about how much I loved women.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:29 AM on September 2, 2009

stenoboy, I see where you are coming from but there are a lot of bigoted people in this world and having that accusation made on the internet could hurt future job prospects.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:32 AM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition (and I used to work for an office of lesbian lawyers once upon a time), my very wise boss told me that you never threaten legal action, either you retain counsel and file or you don't. If it's this important to you, a nastygram from a lawyer may cost you a few hundred bucks, but I don't see this being very likely to succeed in court.
posted by at 9:47 AM on September 2, 2009

Depending on the locations involved here, the host may have liability here and could be a weak link. I'd not spend the money for a full court press, so to speak, but I'd certainly drop some cash on two letters from a lawyer - one to her, one to them.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:48 AM on September 2, 2009

Um, mippy, you can't have a libelous statement that is NOT defamatory, because, libel is defined as a defamatory statement that is written (or published in the electronic media age).

I was always under the impression that 'libel' is a term of wilful inaccuracy as much as defamation. But IANAL.

There's really nothing wrong in being gay or even being thought of as being gay. *shakes head*

I completely agree, but in theory, there would be if being gay precluded OP from entering some of the positions (matron) which he is applying for. Like someone says above, there are a lot of bigots in the world. See also <>em>here - - it can be the implication of lying about who you are too.
posted by mippy at 9:54 AM on September 2, 2009

Sorry - link:

(I hate IE)
posted by mippy at 9:55 AM on September 2, 2009

Mippy, it's possible that in the UK libel is defined differently. I don't know anything about UK libel laws, except to know that they are quite different than US defamation law. Here, libel is a subset of defamation, not an independent term.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:03 AM on September 2, 2009


You might find this book informative. It is by a law professor from DC who has set himself up as the go-to guy for online privacy law. It talks a bit about legal options that exist (and also ideas about changing the law, but you probably don't have the resources for that crusade).

As a strictly practical matter, drjimmy11's proposal to drown out the bad search results with the good is 1) more likely to be effective in the short term, 2) orders of magnitude cheaper, and 3) has the benefit of not requiring you to stick your hand in the crazy by interacting, even through counsel, with the blogger girl. Just do not pay some lame company to do this for you. It's something you can do yourself.

Is the blog obviously dispatches from Crazytown (unprofessional appearance, is it an established site or just one floating post bashing you, etc.)? Would an employer really think this is relevant character information (is it "Anony is a big mean gay jerk!" or "Anony is a big mean gay thieving jerk who does coke every night!")? Are you specifically identified with your full name, or could it be about some other Anony Mous? There's a lot of variables that could make your claim more or less persuasive.
posted by vilthuril at 10:32 AM on September 2, 2009

You have five options:

A) Bury it with good stuff about yourself: writing thoughtful comments signed with your name in high-traffic blogs, getting friends to write SEO-rich stuff about you in their blogs, etc. If there's a lot of good stuff about you on the Google, no future employer or date is going to notice one crank anti-you site.

B) Get her to take the anti-you site down through negotiation.

C) Get her website host or service provider to take the anti-you site down through negotiation. (If she uses your legal name it might be a violation of either or both entity's Terms of Service.)

D) Get an attorney to threaten her with legal action if she does not take it down, and follow through on the action if she does not (even though you will almost certainly lose the action).

E) Get an attorney to threaten her web host or ISP with legal action, etc.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 AM on September 2, 2009

Do not listen to anyone here.

No one here knows what they are talking about, nor do they have nearly enough information to providing any answers with respect to the law. People are answering purely emotionally ('it's not defamation to call you gay' [it can be]) and not with any understanding of the law (Protip: if one trial court judge in one case says something was not defamation, it does not make it so in every other case in every other jurisdiction... trial court judge's rulings have no precedential value)

Contact a lawyer who specializes in this. It should be easy to find on google, or a site like martindale-hubble or superlawyers or something.

Now the tips on how to game google or talk to the webhost is something that may be worth your while exploring individually. But with respect to whether you have an actionable claim, ignore everyone here because they cannot possibly have any idea what they are talking about based on the dearth of information and lack of training.
posted by dios at 11:32 AM on September 2, 2009

Not a lawyer.

Seconding what dios said. Depending on the jurisdiction, falsely claiming someone is a homosexual can be libelous (e.g., in NY). Not sure of the rule in CA/DC (though they aren't necessarily the only relevant jurisdictions). Also, some states require you to prove your actual monetary damages (i.e. not just the possibility of losing future job prospects).

If Google will only remove it w/ a court order, then you will probably need an attorney. Not sure of the DC practice, but you typically have to start a case (e.g. for libel), then file a motion to get the order to remove the content (it would likely just be temporary until the case concluded). In the alternative, the attorney could send a cease and desist letter to the girl (probably the cheaper route, if it works) asking her to remove the content and stating that you'll pursue legal action if she doesn't.

Hopefully, once you got to this step, the girl would agree to delete the blog and not place the content online via another source, or something like that.

Whether you should do this depends on how costly you really think the blog is to your reputation relative to the potential cost of the attorney.

Sorry, no DC lawyer recommendations.

Good luck!
posted by melissasaurus at 12:01 PM on September 2, 2009

As a heterosexual who spent years describing his old job as "design fag", I do agree with some of the thoughts above about taking control of the situation by contextualizing it.

For example, it might really blow off the person if, for example, you had your own high-listed blog post called "What to Do When Some Idiot Calls You Gay On The Internet", signed with your name but not including the idiot's, of course, nor linking to it. (If you do this, think about it carefully first, it's just a quick notion on how to handle negative press from my PR days.)

But it's hard to know if carefully-legal counter-shenanigans are the right move without knowing what was said and how likely anyone is to ever see it.

It's too bad this is anonymous in that we can't see what was said or how easy it is to find based on your real name. (If you'd like to do an experiment, me-mail me and I'll be discreet.)
posted by rokusan at 12:39 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

So you get a court order to take it down, she turns around and starts a new blogspot account, what happens then? You should go after her court.
posted by exhilaration at 1:11 PM on September 2, 2009

I think rokusan's advice is best. If you are worried that someone will stumble across the ravings of a lunatic mind on the backwaters on the internet, make sure they also stumble on your own blog post just like he describes.

Fighting a nut on the internet is like trying to sue a mosquito.
posted by gjc at 6:33 AM on September 3, 2009

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