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Investigation Finds Links Between Seamy Slander Sites and Reputation-Management Services

Published by Slashdot on Mon, 03 May 2021

This week the New York Times published their online investigation into the seamy world of the professional slander industry. (Alternate URL.) At first glance, the websites appear amateurish. They have names like BadGirlReports.date, BustedCheaters.com and WorstHomeWrecker.com. Photos are badly cropped. Grammar and spelling are afterthoughts. They are clunky and text-heavy, as if they're intended to be read by machines, not humans. But do not underestimate their power... One woman in Ohio was the subject of so many negative posts that Bing declared in bold at the top of her search results that she "is a liar and a cheater"the same way it states that Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States. For roughly 500 of the 6,000 people we searched for, Google suggested adding the phrase "cheater" to a search of their names. The unverified claims are on obscure, ridiculous-looking sites, but search engines give them a veneer of credibility. Posts from Cheaterboard.com appear in Google results alongside Facebook pages and LinkedIn profiles.... That would be bad enough for people whose reputations have been savaged. But the problem is all the worse because it's so hard to fix. And that is largely because of the secret, symbiotic relationship between those facilitating slander and those getting paid to remove it. Who, exactly' The Times spoke to: Cyrus Sullivan, the Portland-based owner of one site who also runs a reputation-management service "to help people get 'undesirable information' about themselves removed from their search engine results. The 'gold package' cost $699.99. For those customers, Mr. Sullivan would alter the computer code underlying the offending posts, instructing search engines to ignore them...." 247Removal's owner Heidi Glosser, who "charges $750 or more per post removal, which adds up to thousands of dollars for most of her clients. To get posts removed, she said, she often pays an 'administrative fee' to the gripe site's webmaster. We asked her whether this was extortion. 'I can't really give you a direct answer,' she said." She appeared to have links to...Web developer Vikram Parmar, who seemed to be running several sites that produced slander while also simultaneously running sites that made money by removing that slander.But finally, the Times reminded their readers that "in certain circumstances, Google will remove harmful content from individuals' search results, including links to 'sites with exploitative removal practices.' If a site charges to remove posts, you can ask Google not to list it. "Google didn't advertise this policy widely, and few victims of online slander seem aware that it's an option. That's in part because when you Google ways to clean up your search results, Google's solution is buried under ads for reputation-management services..."Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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