Someone is intentionally attacking me & my family online.
December 17, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Someone has created a site via Google Sites that is radically defaming myself and my family. We're not talking about a 12 year playing a prank. It's a systematic attack with the most egregious accusations one can imagine. They're parroting my personal business site and posting info that is not only libelous, but fantastically horrible. The junk they've posted about myself, my wife and our two small children is heartbreaking. We believe we know who it is (but have no proof) and have contacted the FBI on advice of a lawyer. They've told us they'll call us once they get jurisdiction figured out and the cybercrime guys take a look. The kind SAIC looked at the site and understood the problem but only got the ball in motion. That could take weeks/months for them to move on this and the site needs to come down, now. HOW?

Google offers no redress other than removing cached copies IF YOU'RE AN OWNER. I can't seem to wade through their system for removing sites from the search engine or how to contact anyone to show the site is a fraud. I've tried calling every number I've found for them and to no avail. I submitted the Abuse form listed on the bottom of google site pages and got nothing but an automated response. If a human would just look at it, it would be obvious. The SAIC who I spoke immediately understood the problem and was frank that what is posted is criminal. I just can't seem to find anyone.

So, to whit. What recourse do we have to:
1) Have the site removed from the search listing
2) Find the whois info for a google sites page (whois doesn't work)
3) Have the site killed
4) Identify who did it, positively.
5) Stop this man from doing it again
6) Keep him away from wife and kids.

We've never dealt with anything like this and we're just lost. Please help.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Long shot, but when I click 'Recent Site Activity' at the bottom of my own pages, it shows a log of changes tagged with my real name. Perhaps the owner forgot to turn this off or sufficiently cover their tracks?
posted by firesine at 7:17 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Found a couple links that, while they don't (and can't) offer immediate solutions, they do explain the why and how:
Why Google won't remove that page you don't like (obviously your case is more serious, but the same issues apply). This is the main takeaway:
Unfortunately there’s not much I can do. The page you pointed out is not spam, and pretty much the only removals (at least in the U.S., which is what I know about) that we do for legal reasons are if a court orders us. We typically say that if person A doesn’t like a webpage B, only removing page B out of Google’s search results doesn’t do any good because webpage B is still there (e.g. it can be found by going to it directly or through other search engines). In that sense, the presence of that page in Google’s index is just reflecting the fact that the page exists on the wider web.

The best actions for you from our perspective can be one of a couple options. Either contact whoever put up webpage B and convince them to modify or to take the page down. Or if the page is doing something against the law, get a court to agree with you and force webpage B to be removed or changed. We really don’t want to be taking sides in a he-said/she-said dispute, so that’s why we typically say “Get the page fixed, changed, or removed on the web and then Google will update our index with those changes the next time that we crawl that page.” Our policies outside the U.S. might be different; I’m not as familiar with how legal stuff works outside the U.S.
Then there's Remove a page from blogspot or blogger (owned by Google). Takeaway is essentially the same:
To remove the defamatory content from the internet, the internet service providers need to be convinced to co-operate. For this purpose, you will need a lawsuit filed against the famacide and the court restraining orders to remove the defamatory content altogether. As per its defamatory policies, Google will not bother to interfere in the communication that is held on Blogspot or Blogger. The court orders, when sent along any subpoena request to ask for Google’s help in removing the defamatory content, will ensure Google’s compliance, and the damage that the cyber crime has inflicted on your reputation can be undone as a result. The whole process is quite long and very detailed so to remove the page from Blogspot or Blogger but, expect it to take some time.

Be aware, Google does not entertain all subpoena requests. Unless the subpoena request is very specific about what digital information is required, Google will not even respond to your request. This is their normal operating procedure so don’t be discouraged. Google has been known to provide data that may or may not help the investigation related to the crime. So your request for the digital evidence from Google will need to be done legally according to the Google guideline and the law. Only in that manner will Google respond to the defamatory content and be forced remove a page from Blogspot or Blogger. In doing so you must make sure that you are asking for the data that will actually help you progress in your investigation.
So, continue talking with a lawyer. Once the person is identified, you could then (presumably, IANAL) get a restraining order.
posted by fraula at 7:20 AM on December 17, 2013

They're parroting my personal business site

Are they copying your text, logo, or other material covered by copywrite? If so, you could file a DMCA takedown request using this form. I'm not a lawyer or anything so I don't know if that would interfere with any of the other wheels you have in motion, but it might help.

Also, ONLY USE THAT FOR MATERIAL WITH A COPYRIGHT. I know this is a tough time, but you don't want to get yourself in legal trouble for trying to take things down via a path that is inappropriate for you.

One other thing - does this actually show up anywhere online, such as people searching for you or your business? (You say "search listing" - does it show up in the first page, or even the first half of the first page?) If it doesn't, it might not be as urgent because no one will find this site. Understandably it's still a terrible thing, but you might be able to take some time to figure this out without the site being a real time problem.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:22 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you considered hiring an online reputation management firm? They won't be able to take the site down (to the best of my knowledge) but they may be able to "drown" that site by creating dozens of other sites that link directly to your business, so that people would have to wade through hundreds of pages before getting to the defamatory one. I have a friend who worked here but maybe someone with more direct knowledge could make a good recommendation- it's difficult to find unbiased online reviews of these firms, for obvious reasons.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think if you could just unmask the person doing it - you would be half way home.

I don't think you (nor I) have the skills to unmask a web address. But, private investigators might be able to do this. I would start searching for a reputable PI, one who specializes in internet activity - and hire that PI to unmask the person behind the website.
posted by Flood at 7:29 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you try resetting the password for the account associated with the site? It gives some minor information occasionally such as the name associated with the account, an alternate email address or the last few digits in a phone number if SMS recovery is available. This may give you more clues as to who is doing this.
posted by palionex at 7:35 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

I read in an article in the local news (though who knows who wrote it) that I can't find now that some colleges are offering accounts with those online reputation cleanup places to graduates before they go out job hunting. If you want a recommendation and don't get one here, it might be worth asking a college if there is one they suggest to students.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 7:36 AM on December 17, 2013

I would:
-continue with the lawyer
-hire a private investigator to track down the culprit (one who deals with internet ID)
-work with a PR/SEO company to try to force the offending page further down and your page further up, and maybe buy some google ads so that the right page displays on top. Keep track of all of your expenses in this regard, as you may be able have a civil suit for damages after this guy/gal is caught.
-I have no knowledge of these things except from reading about them on Reddit, but perhaps doxxing or ddos-ing the site may be a possibility. I have no idea if this is legal or advisable; doing something like this may jeopardize the aforementioned civil suit ("unclean hands" and all that jazz).
-make sure you've purchased all domains relevant to your business (say you own, make sure you also have,, etc). Make sure you're set up to autorenew as this guy might be squatting on your domain.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:49 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If waiting on the internal cogs at law enforcement and Google is not getting you where you ned to be, get a lawyer right away. You need a lawsuit filed and an emergency TRO issued ordering Google to immediately take down the defamatory information. Then use the legal discovery process to seek to compel Google to turn over the identity of the site creator, etc. A lawyer in your jurisdiction should be able to advise further.
posted by chicxulub at 7:51 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

They're parroting my personal business site

Are they copying your text, logo, or other material covered by copywrite? If so, you could file a DMCA takedown request using this form. I'm not a lawyer or anything so I don't know if that would interfere with any of the other wheels you have in motion, but it might help.

Also, ONLY USE THAT FOR MATERIAL WITH A COPYRIGHT. I know this is a tough time, but you don't want to get yourself in legal trouble for trying to take things down via a path that is inappropriate for you.

I am not a lawyer, but I did talk to one recently that specializes in IP law. He said that (in his words) "as soon as you take your fingers from the keyboard on something you've written, it's copyrighted." Regarding a matter of someone (amongst other things) potentially taking chunks of our company website and using them as their own, he advised us to file a DMCA takedown with their ISP. The DMC Act was apparently written so that if an ISP immediately removes the offending material, they can't be found legally at fault for it having been there.

If this person is indeed stealing from your personal business site, that's probably the most immediate and direct way to take them down. ISPs will act on their own before they're ever compelled to by the court. Now, I don't know how Google Sites would react, but no website host in this country is going to potentially host copyrighted material once they're alerted to it.

Again, IANAL, but this was recommended to me by a lawyer as a general first step for a person to possibly avoid an expensive legal case, so I thought I'd pass it along. The website may go back up eventually if the offender removes the copyrighted material, if any, after discussions with their ISP, however.

I'd personally cache the site or screencap every aspect of it, first, though. If the things that are being said are libelous, that may require the services of a lawyer specializing in that area. I don't know much of anything about that type of law.

However, I will say that a lawyer should be honest with you during your consultation (have ALL the facts ready and organized to save time) about whether they can help you or not. They should be able to at least analyze the situation quickly enough to determine if it will be a cut-and-dry case or potentially an expensive slog. If they seem too eager to get going, be a little wary. Even pay for a second opinion.

I will say that, recently, we paid for a second opinion on our matter in question, and the second lawyer said pretty much the opposite of what first one said. Like, so opposite as to be pointing out that the first lawyer's strategy had no legal merit and would immediately fail. The second one clearly knew exactly what he was talking about and saved us an immense disaster had we simply followed the first one's advice. You could just tell by the way he explained things. Libel cases are usually going to be at least somewhat muddy, so you'd need to find someone CAPABLE to take one on for you, not just someone WILLING to take one on for you.

These are just my own recent experiences, and I felt they were sufficiently useful (and fresh in my mind) to pass along.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 8:09 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You don't mention what kind of lawyer you contacted, but there are lawyers who specialize in internet defamation. I would think their resources and experience would be invaluable here.
posted by cecic at 8:27 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they actually took icons or pictures from your web site you likely have their IP address in your server logs. You can use this to make a case against them. You might also be able to set a trap and change the logo on your website and start looking at seeing who looks at it.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:43 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not a solution, but you should also start using donotlink when you need to send a link to the site to others. That way any traffic to the site will not add to its visibility on search engines.
posted by brookeb at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll only answer with this because no one else has suggested it, but one POSSIBLE solution would be to put on your black hat. Find someone knowledgeable about computers in "that" way (I'm talking about someone who understands malicious tactics, possibly a security expert.) and use alternative means to bring down their site, discover their identity, and all manner of thing from there.

I realize that it sounds like I'm advocating illicit behavior here, but that's not exactly my intent. Because we don't know the exact severity, it may be an avenue that warrants investigation, if only to deal with the immediate problem / threat. There are people and groups out there that are EXCELLENT at this sort of thing, orchestrating DDOS attacks as a form of protest, tunneling through China's Great Firewall, and the like, that could assist in bringing that site down, or perhaps better, accelerating traffic to that site to the point where it becomes financially infeasible for your attacker to maintain the site at all.

Perhaps that is horrible advice, and I'll accede to the community on that judgment. It is an avenue that hasn't been discussed here, and that's the only reason I raise it.
posted by ASoze at 10:45 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you looked into

IALBNYL, TINLA: if you don't already have an attorney, this would be the time to get one, particularly one well versed in libel, copyright, trademark and other related areas of law. A full court press with some scorching of the earth may be the only way to get this removed ASAP. I'm talking lawsuits seeking injunctions, take downs, etc.

I would not put a lot of faith in the FBI to get this resolved quickly because even though the activity may be criminal and damaging to you and your family, it is not likely to be high on their priority list.

Best of luck.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 12:02 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there anyone in your personal network that works in internet security, such as a security-focused systems administrator? Working 1-1 with someone who is a) adept at backend research and b) can reasonably help you narrow down evidence that points to the culprit will help you along a great deal. If you don't have anyone in your network, you are welcome to MeFiMail me in the event one of my friends is willing and able to help. It would require that you disclose information about the site, who you believe to be the culprit and other data points. I don't know anyone who is willing to do anything illegal, but there are avenues to try that most folks, even computer-savvy ones, aren't aware of. Failing this, I would recommend that you hire a private investigator so that you can build enough evidence for a legal case.
posted by cior at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2013

What tafetta said. If your family's safety is in any way threatened you need to pull out the big guns. Not just "a lawyer" but a good one with experience. Get a recommendation locally, but maybe find one in a bigger city or your state's biggest city or capital who can act very aggressively on your behalf to shake the trees.

A civil lawsuit subpoena is a good way to wake someone up.

Another avenue to consider is that once you have a good identification of the person you can consider going public. Get the media on your side.

Look into avenues like worming into the worm's social network. Does he work for a company? Does he own a company? What would this behavior do to his reputation and standing? (More than likely you are not the first victim of his unstable wrath.) Consider ways to boost your own social connections with a view toward eventually using them, if you need them, to tighten the vise.

Without knowing more we can't say whether you're dealing with a weeks, months, or years-long effort. But definitely take this seriously and don't just fob it off on the FBI and cross your fingers, because the wheels of justice do move notoriously slowly.
posted by dhartung at 3:53 PM on December 17, 2013

I meant to add that you sound like a great candidate for the excellent book, The Gift of Fear, by celebrity PI Gavin de Becker. He describes in his book several client scenarios that may be similar, that is, not just women but whole families being harassed or threatened.

It sounds like you have someone in mind, but he often found that clients were unwilling to consider someone a suspect until he pressed them, telling them that they probably did know exactly who was e.g. making the hang-up calls. He then would provide a script for how to deal with this person, including outside the harassing contact.

In general the book is good advice about trusting your instincts and considering your options, as well as heading off threats before they become problems.
posted by dhartung at 3:59 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Perhaps that is horrible advice, and I'll accede to the community on that judgment.

Yes, committing crimes and going to jail is probably not the course of action OP should take.
posted by sideshow at 9:18 AM on December 19, 2013

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