What to do about slanderous comments?
August 20, 2010 7:30 PM   Subscribe

What can I do about someone from my past writing slanderous things about me online?

I've just found out that the sister of my ex-boyfriend has been making comments on third-party websites about me. Most of her accusation is vague and incoherent; she calls me selfish, greedy and manipulative without saying why. I've racked my brain to figure out what she's referring to, but I honestly can't -- my ex and I had a very emotionally messy breakup, no doubt about it, but I swear I can't think of anything in my relationship with him that fits such a description at all. (I can think of several ways that could apply to *him*... but I suppose getting into all that would be a long needless digression here. But what could I say in response to *that* sort of thing, anyway? "You're evil, evil, evil!" -- "Um, no, I'm not"?) And *she* had nothing to do with our breakup whatsoever. My relationship with her, for all the years I knew her, never had any problems -- we weren't great pals or anything, but we were always friendly to each other, were often in each other's homes, and I can't remember a single bad word or any unpleasantness happening between us. If she really thought I was such a terrible person at any time during those four years, then she's the best actress I've ever known.

The one clear accusation she makes against me is that I photographed her kids and sold the photos without her permission. I did indeed take photos of them (I'm a retired professional photographer) and had them as part of my portfolio, with her enthusiastic approval... for the entire FOUR YEARS that her brother and I were together. For *four years* I photographed them, not only always in the presence of her, her brother and her husband, but with the enthusiastic approval of all three. For four years I had them in my portfolio both online and off; I included them in a public showing at which she was present; I watched her hang the prints on the walls of her home; and when one of them was published in a magazine, she bought a ton of copies to give to people. I have pictures of her at every photoshoot -- including, of course, tons of photos of her herself, with the kids, beaming at the camera -- and I have emails from her (and her husband and family) going across all four years raving about the photos. The children even called me uncle, for crying out loud; I still have a crayon drawing "To Uncle (me)" made by her youngest son. How she can say this is totally beyond me.

Shortly after her brother and I broke up, she sent me an email making the same claim (that I somehow took all these photos behind her back and she'd just discovered their existence), threatening me with legal action if I didn't take them down immediately, quoting strange Bible verses and calling me a monster. Needless to say, I was all too glad to remove them... and that was the last time I ever heard from her.

That was *five years ago.* I haven't had one word of contact with her ever since. The only contact I've had with her brother was some few brief emails, some months after that, to clear up the legal dissolution of our domestic partnership. And now she's on the warpath against me again in public, five years after the last time I ever spoke to her (or her brother or anyone connected to them). I mean, I get that her brother and I had a bad breakup and that she's automatically going to see him as the wronged party, no matter what; I have a sister, too, and if I thought someone hurt her, they'd have one angry brother to deal with. But I wouldn't out-and-out *lie* for her (and I'm pretty sure she'd never want me to), unless I had to if she was in some kind of danger or something. If she's doing this out of some imagined need to defend her brother, I have no idea why; for all the messiness of our breakup, it *was* very much mutual. We haven't had any lingering legal or financial (or otherwise) ties of any kind. And for fuck's sake -- it was FIVE YEARS AGO! I have no reason to think her brother hasn't long since moved on -- and no clue why she hasn't.

So what now? If I respond to her, I'm worried that I'd just be stepping into a steaming pile of crazy and stirring her up further to god knows what; I've got enough going on in my life to deal with already, thanks. For my own sake -- to say nothing of the sake of her kids, *they* certainly don't need to be dragged into anything -- I'd be more than happy to ignore it and get on with my life, but I'm worried that letting this go unanswered will come back to bite me in the future, with anyone I'm looking to work for or have a relationship with, if they google my name and see someone making me sound so sleazy (which could be her intention, for all I know). So what, if anything, should I do?

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
can you forward that stuff to her brother with a note asking for some kind of illumination? something that reminds him that the way that she is spinning things is not the way that things really went down? and to ask what he thinks about her posting stuff on the internet about it, that many years later?
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:41 PM on August 20, 2010

You could contact whoever owns/runs the website(s) she's posting on and ask that person to remove your name. Don't contact this crazy person directly, but if she's posting on professional websites (i.e., not her friends' blogs), you might as well try contacting the sites' owners.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:46 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is no way you can respond to it online without it getting crazier. She's already making stuff up, what's to stop her from upping the ante when you respond? You took pictures of my kids! Yes, but you gave me permission! You were planning to sell them into slavery! Etc. Is this an anti-gay thing ("strange bible verses," "monster")?

I agree with lakersfan1222, go through the brother, at least you have some idea of how to communicate with him.
posted by desjardins at 7:54 PM on August 20, 2010

You're right to not respond to her. Frankly, you shouldn't acknowledge it at all, because eventually she will tire and go away. I don't think that you should even contact your ex about it, either, because even if he thinks she's batshit crazy, he will likely take her side.

Vague comments about you being 'greedy, selfish and manipulative' are not libel or slander, unfortunately. You don't say what kinds of websites they are, either. I would start by examining the terms of service of those sites and seeing if those comments are in violate of the TOS. If it is, then it's a simple mail to the site owner pointing out the offending comment & a request to remove it. If they're not in violation of the TOS & it's a site you frequent, a polite request to the site owner to ask them if they'd consider removal of the comment/suspension of the account might be met with favor, might not.

However, if the comments are trying to allege anything about you professionally, and I think this is borderline, you might need to get a lawyer to send her a letter asking her to cease and desist because you could claim damage to your professional reputation. But without the exact tone of the comments & the sites the comments are posted on, I don't know if the context is 'wow, batshit weirdo' or 'borderline accusation of being a pedophile'.
posted by micawber at 7:54 PM on August 20, 2010

Not a lawyer. That said, if this is doing (or has done) you professional damage, you might actually have some legal recourse. It depends very much on where you are, and the finer detail of her accusations.

Even if you weren't seeking to sue and receive damages, a sternly worded threat of suit from your qualified legal practitioner might (just might) be a useful card to play - either to get her to take stuff down, or get it removed from her servers.

But it might also inflame things. That risk needs to be assessed by you and others who really know the people involved and the specific situation.

I would think, though, that even if legal action is currently not an option from your point of view, you do want to document this. Make sure you've got some evidence just in case. Copy every one of the web pages that mention you, and get the hard copies signed and dated by witnesses or notaries (this bit differs in different jurisdictions as well).
posted by Ahab at 8:04 PM on August 20, 2010

Why worry about it? Just try to get the malicious comments off the first page of Google results for your name.

Do this by creating a LinkedIn account, a Facebook account, a blog (I use Wordpress as an online resume and portfolio), and also try commenting with your real name on several sites that are indexed by Google, such as the New York Times or a larger local paper (make sure you say something nice, intelligent, and uncontroversial about a story or topic that is uncontroversial).

It will take a little effort, but talking to websites and lawyers and brothers will also take a lot of effort, as well as a lot of drama and anguish, and no certainty of success.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 PM on August 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

"The one clear accusation she makes against me is that I photographed her kids and sold the photos without her permission."

This is the only part I think you could address... If you were still in business and it was hurting your business that she said this (I think the burden of proof would be on you), you could sue for libel. Since you said you're retired, I think you should probably just ignore it.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:11 PM on August 20, 2010

There is some good advice here for dealing with her, which is probably your best first bet; hopefully there is some way to resolve this amicably, and most likely there is.

As a general point of advice, though:

In the age of the internet, there is no way to really get rid of bad stuff about you on the internet; the only thing you can do is try to counter it with good stuff.

The best thing to do in this situation: start a good blog. Make it readable, and update it often.
posted by koeselitz at 8:14 PM on August 20, 2010

I have a similar type "stalker" who writes all sorts of crazy unfounded things about me online and in emails to newspapers, authority figures (SEC, local governemnt, etc) and to mutual acquaintances. The events in question are from 10 TEN years ago now. His real claim is that he was not treated with the respect that his position in life deserved because he came from a family that has highly successful people such as cousins who are doctors. He himself has been admitted to hospital psych wards several times at least once which was against his will. He readily admits he was insane talking to pets like they were his parents or something.

It goes on and on. I have explored restraining orders, less formally having the cops just knock on his door and "talk to him" legal letters and the like. I have had message board sites similar to Metafilter although industry specific take down the most outrageous posts, ones that I thought were veiled threats against my family. They took them down so I was probably not over-reacting.

What can you do? Pretty much nothing. Asking her to stop will only fuel her desire knowing it is getting to you. Asking websites to take down stuff? I would not unless it is a physical threat. It fuels them. They then start screaming you are censoring them and it just draws more attention to the problem. I painfully ignore the posting, emails and phone calls. It takes discipline when I want to grab the phone and yell, "FUCK OFF ASSHOLE!" One time I did have to respond to the recipients of one of his emails without including him because he was making some sort of sexual accusations and I am a coach and active member of my community. I counsel you to sit as tight as you can until and unless they become physical threats, they affect your livelihood or people who don't know you when they meet you ask about it.

I would consider getting a restraining order as it will send a message to her that you mean business, this is not a game to you and that the authorities are aware of her bs. I caution it may backfire as it is real hard legally to get her to stop.

Mefi Mail me if you want more advice or info.

Good luck, this sucks.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:13 PM on August 20, 2010

I was also thinking you could go the letter on legal letterhead route. Perhaps speak to an attorney about drafting such a letter? If she's meaning to imply that there was some inappropriateness on your part (in a sexual way, or just in a creepy way), as another poster said, you might be able to say that she is marring your reputation with statements that are untrue. I wouldn't think it would matter that you were "officially" retired. I mean, there's a chance you might want to freelance, or take an odd job here or there, right? Bring the e-mails that she/they sent regarding their excitement over the photos, and any evidence of her lies to the attorney... Have them make copies to keep in your file. It's a calculated "bluff," but one that I'm sure would be enough to get her to stop posting crap in the future.

I disagree with the poster that says that it might inflame things. Unless she herself is in the legal profession (which I'd seriously hope she is not, based on her kinda batshit behaviour), I think a pseudo-threatening letter from a lawyer is enough to put the fear of God in a lots people.

As far as what's out there now, I don't think it's enough to just load the internet with positive/neutral things about yourself and HOPE that no one happens upon the bad stuff. We're in an age where internet "stalking" is not just accepted... it's pretty common practice. A good number of people dig deeper than the first page on google... I'd speak to the sites and explain the situation... Explain that you have sought legal counsel (which you hopefully will have at that point). Most sites probably won't want to deal with the mess, and could be persuaded to remove the comments. If that doesn't work, get your attorney to sent them the same sort of letter that they send to your ex's sister.

P.S. I feel that contacting her or her brother directly WOULD be a very bad idea, and should be avoided. Siblings are siblings, and it would be unreasonable to think that he would side with you over his sister and ask her to knock her shit off.
posted by RogueHolly at 9:36 PM on August 20, 2010

This is what the phrase "Do not dignify with a response" was made for. People who make crazy accusations are eventually understood to be crazy people. Getting into this is what will actually damage your reputation. Staying out of it will help your reputation.
posted by dhartung at 9:43 PM on August 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Internet drama! I am familiar with this!

Fact: you can not do anything about this. Other fact: the Internet, she is very fast moving. The only reason to even be vaguely concerned about this is if you are currently looking for a job and it's in the top results in Google.

If it is, sign up for some innocuous public message boards with your username as your first and last name, and ask innocuous questions and post innocuous answers and soon that will be the only thing they see.

Crazy people are crazy, and the Internet is a favorite hangout of theirs. If someone mentions it to you then roll your eyes and say "well, what can you do, its the internet" and kind of exasperatedly amused, half-roll your eyes. Seriously, forget it, Jake.
posted by mckenney at 12:00 AM on August 21, 2010

Agree with the "don't respond" advice. In addition, take solace in the fact that all her crazy "manipulative evil greedy" attacks will indicate to rational people that she's just nuts. If she only made calm but firm accusations that you took pictures of her kids and sold them without permission, that would actually be worse, as if she did that she might come off as rational to a third party. As it is, it should be obvious to any potential clients that she's just crazy.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:12 AM on August 21, 2010

It sounds as if she's holding some crazy grudge about the photo situation. Maybe she thought you should have returned all photographs of her children and destroyed the negatives, and therefore feels that your connection is still extant?

Anyway, nthing to not dignify the crazy with a response.
posted by desuetude at 12:57 PM on August 21, 2010

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