Sue Scheff didn’t expect she’d make enemies when she founded the child and parenting advocacy organization PURE. But someone began attacking her on the Internet, posting enough defamatory statements to compel her to bring a lawsuit. She won $11.3 million in 2006.
In this exclusive preview of the book “Google Bomb,” Brand X brings you the story of what the lawsuit means, Sue’s own perspective and 10 tips to protect yourself online. The series begins today and will continue through Tuesday, when the book goes on sale [on sale now].
We begin with the foreword by Michael Fertik, CEO and founder of Reputation Defender:
Google is not God. Google is not the First Amendment, and it is not the truth. It is a machine. It may be the best machine invented in the past fifteen years, with myriad benefits for human knowledge and collaboration, but it is still just a machine that operates on rules devised by people. For that reason, it is both inherently fallible and subject to deliberate abuse.
It may be amazing that we actually have to say that Google isn’t God or the equivalent of freedom of speech or informational gospel truth. But it is clear that many of us believe that what shows up on the top of Google results is the most important, best, most accurate, most complete, most reliable, and most up-to-date information about the subject we are searching. From what is publicly understood about Google, it seems that the search engine scientists who work there try very hard to make the most democratically valued information rise to the top, on the basic operating theory that the wisdom of the crowd will, over time, tend to favor the best and most comprehensive websites that discuss a particular topic, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral, cabbages or kings.
But despite what may be Google’s best efforts and intentions, the machine gets it wrong at least as often as it gets it right. The errors and omissions of the world’s search engines visit punishing consequences on the victims of erroneous, obsolete, incomplete, or false information. Nonetheless, despite this mixed (and possibly worsening) track record, the rising primacy of Google as the world’s most important data channel seems to hoodwink many of us into believing what we see when it comes up on the top of Google search results. The theory goes: if it shows up on Google, it must be true and it’s somehow the best information about the subject being searched.
It is clear that people make decisions based on what they find in the top positions on Google: multiple visual “heat maps” published on the Internet have shown that the vast majority of Google users look at the top few results and ignore everything below them.
This is important for all of us, as we have become as searchable as the subjects we crave information on. What shows up at the top of Google can make or break our professional lives, our chances at romance, and our ability to get into the school of our dreams. It is far easier to harm someone and destroy their reputation on the World Wide Web than it is to make that person look great or even plain vanilla neutral. Blogs and discussion forums often enjoy more prominence in search engines than newspapers and other edited professional journals. Under the rules of search engines as they exist today, odd blog and forum corners of the Web can be turned into powerful launch pads of interpersonal attack.
There are real-life consequences when someone aims to destroy someone else on the Internet. It’s all too easy to destroy another person on the Web. In cyber-slamming cases, victims are often intimidated into silence because they feel powerless and helpless, and their first instinct is to shut themselves up so that things don’t “get worse.” Sue, a victim herself, is a rare individual because she decided to stand up for herself on the Web, defend herself in the courts and online, and go about protecting herself and others in an assertive way. You may or may not agree with everything Sue and John have written, but we can all agree that the narrative they tell is an important one for the emerging discussion of Internet, speech, and the speech-shaping powers of Google.
Part 2 Do you know what Google is Saying about you?
Part 3 Ready to protect yourself online? OK, let’s get started
Part 4 The top 10 ways to protect yourself from e-venge