internet infamy
September 25, 2007 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Someone reproduced the full text of an email from me, including my unique full name, on a Google-indexed forum. My two messages to the forum requesting removal have been fruitless. Am I out of luck?

This guy used to stalk me. I didn't have to file a restraining order, but I did have to clearly outline the full extent of his inappropriate behavior in an email, which he thoughtfully reproduced in full on the internet. Circumstances strongly suggest he did it hoping I'd find it; it wouldn't be the first time.

The content of the email definitely reflects more badly on him than it does on me, but evidence that I was stalked isn't really what I want popping up in the ~10 Google results for my name. I'll be applying for new jobs at the end of the year, and for grad school the year after that. Not to mention, it's not exactly a fun time to remember.

The forum's TOS says users are held personally responsible for any "libelous, defamatory, or slanderous remarks" they make, and that posting to the forums signifies permission for the site to use, modify, or reproduce submissions in any way, in part or in whole, now or in the future, etc etc. I don't think this qualifies as defamation, and they don't specifically mention harassment, but they could delete or alter content if they wanted to.

I send them a polite message a few months explaining that their member was using this post to harass me, and that I'd appreciate it if they could delete it. I sent it again last week, noting that their contact page promises a response within one day. Nothing.

One possible issue is that it's a support forum for, and run by, people with a developmental disorder. My email suggests that his stalking was related to his disorder and I wasn't sympathetic to him. (I didn't know at the time, actually.)

Is there anything I can do here?
posted by moonlet to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Best answer: Well, you own the copyright in your email. You could try busting out the DCMA on them -- either through the forum, or through Google to stop them indexing it.
posted by katemonster at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2007

Best answer: you might see if there is an alternate form of contact. it's entirely possible that the emails went astray. is there a snail-mail address for the forum administrator? a call to the sponsoring organization might help.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:28 AM on September 25, 2007

I doubt there's really a lot you can do besides putting more positive info about yourself online so that someone is less likely to find the forum thread via a Google search.

Also, here is a similar question from a few months ago.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2007

Best answer: One more email. Terse and to the point, stating that unless your personal info is taken down you will be retaining legal counsel to see to it. Say that you require an immediate response.

I would also consider the possibility that the emails have been going unread. Leaning on the horn will get their attention if there is anyone there. If no-one answers, my next step would be to contact whoever is hosting the forum, telling them about your privacy concerns and how the client is being non-responsive.

A last resort (because it will likely create a shitstorm) is to post to the forum itself. At least then they will be forced to notice it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:32 AM on September 25, 2007

dyslexictraveler: These questions are different because this one involves the copyrighted material of moonlet, who can probably legally demand that it be removed.
posted by grouse at 10:33 AM on September 25, 2007

I admin/moderate a few forums, and in my experience it's very possible that the person listed as the contact isn't there any longer, and nobody is getting the emails.

Can you sign up for the forum and track down one of the active administrators/moderators and PM (private message) them? There is usually a group called "the moderating team" or something. Find one of them that is active on the forum and contact him/her directly. They are much more likely to do something like that for someone than the sometimes-fairly-absent main admin.
posted by gemmy at 10:37 AM on September 25, 2007

Find an alternate method of contacting them; clearly they are unimpressed by an email.

If you can't find anything else on their website, and they have their own domain name, run a whois search on their domain name. Often this will reveal information like phone numbers, and a mailing address. Call them, and follow up with registered mail. Start with a polite request, but if they resist, turn up the heat (katemonster has the right idea with a DMCA takedown request.)
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:42 AM on September 25, 2007

If contacting the admin/moderators of the board itself proves fruitless, move on to their hosting provider. I run a few websites, and hosting providers will shut you down lickety-split if they get word that you're hosting illegal or copywritten content and threaten legal action. This info is also usually listed in the whois search, either as the administrative and/or support contacts, and all else, as the name server listed for the whois. You can always try the registrar, too. (The company that handled the registration of the domain name itself, like GoDaddy, etc.)
posted by MarkLark at 11:02 AM on September 25, 2007

I think you should go to the host.

And in the meantime you might want to Ungoogle yourself.
posted by cda at 11:15 AM on September 25, 2007

IANAL, but take a read of this:
posted by electric_counterpoint at 11:16 AM on September 25, 2007

there are companies, such as ReputationDefender, that can be hired to address defamation on the web.
posted by brooklynexperiment at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2007

Don't email the forum, email Google.
posted by rhizome at 11:27 AM on September 25, 2007

To play devil's advocate, you sent him an e-mail and you are upset he published it? Isn't this the equivilent of people who post rejection letters from publishers/employers and the like.I think you are well within your right to ask for the administrators to remove it but I doubt they have to listen to your demands.
posted by mmascolino at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2007

Oh, my, no, don't use Reputation Defender. This has been discussed here before (on the blue and on the green), and consensus seems to be that you can provide your own bluster and empty threats of legal action without paying someone else to bluff for you. Google almost certainly won't give you any redress, so I'd go with the advice given upthread and find a phone number for either the site administrator or someone in a parent organization.

Failing that, the best defense is a good offense: if you provide enough useful pages that contain your name, they'll quickly bury a throwaway reference to you on a message board that doesn't have great PageRank.
posted by Mayor West at 11:58 AM on September 25, 2007

I'll agree with Mayor West about Reputation Defender being useless, and disagree about submitting DMCA notifications to Google which might in fact be very useful.
posted by grouse at 12:02 PM on September 25, 2007

If the forum operator won't take it down, it may be time to start contacting their ISP's abuse contact.
posted by oaf at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2007

DMCA takedown.

Everything else is just whining; the DMCA notice will get Google (or basically anyone else) to pull the message. And you have every reason to use it, because your copyright is being clearly violated.

However, he could take your email and reproduce it in small excerpts, and then it would probably not be a copyvio anymore, but could still be embarassing -- in that case you can't use the DMCA but would have to go through more conventional libel/slander/defamation lawsuit channels. (Assuming, of course, that it's actually libel, slander, or defamation, which it might not be.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:21 PM on September 25, 2007

Best answer: See: How to write a proper DMCA takedown notice and Google's DMCA page in particular. You will need to specifically identify the infringing post that you want removed, and certify under penalty of perjury that it contains copyrighted material that you own.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:28 PM on September 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

dyslexictraveler:These questions are different because this one involves the copyrighted material of moonlet, who can probably legally demand that it be removed.

I agree they are different from a legal perspective, but I don't think they are really different from a practical "What can you really do" perspective. Even if the OP does manage to convince the forum's admins/hosting company to take down the postings (which I think is unlikely), there is nothing that moonlet can do to prevent the stalker from simply reposting the content to another forum, and then we're back at square one.

I think a much better strategy would be to increase the quantity positive content that's out there (i.e. go on offense) and bury the bad Google result.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 1:44 PM on September 25, 2007

There is plenty moonlet can do to keep the stalker from reposting her copyright material on another forum. She knows exactly who is doing it and can use DMCA takedown notices, which surely are easier to do then spamming Google with alternative pages. If she really wants to put a stop to it, she can get an injunction.
posted by grouse at 2:34 PM on September 25, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses, everybody. I'll email the contact address listed in the whois, then call, then escalate to DMCA and the host.

Apparently Google posts takedown notices; while they say they'll remove personally identifying information, I'm guessing they'd have to leave in the search phrase, i.e., my name. So I'll try to hold off on that.
posted by moonlet at 2:43 PM on September 25, 2007

Were I in your situation I wouldn't make a bunch of angry-but-empty legal threats. I'd accept that there's one instance of my name out there online that I didn't expect. You know what they say; never email anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper. I dunno. My correspondence is certainly expected to remain private but issuing a "DMCA Takedown" seems pretty hysterical to me.
posted by loiseau at 5:18 PM on September 25, 2007

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