Article review: Cyberterrorism and you – how Internet reputation repair consultants are raking it in from your online misery

[Dr. Edward Lestrade, CyberCrime Contributor]

Professor Ann Bartow is a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law. In May this year she will be joining Pace Law School Faculty as a Law Professor.

International Times of Dominica CyberCrime Contributor, Sarah Blum, reviews her article, ‘Internet Defamation as a Profit Center: The Monetization of Online Harassment’ which was published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, Vol. 32, No.2, 2009.

The article, although written primarily from a feminist perspective,  provides an insightful and seminal view of the increasing problem of cyberbullying and online harassment which has now reached epidemic proportions in the USA in particular and how this has provided for the birth of a brand new business form  – Internet reputation repair consulting.

The article, investigates the problem of cyberbullying/ online defamation, or harassment and particularly its effect on women due to the misery it causes to them. It explains that  in face to face harassment situations in a public place, or at work, a person can look to the police, or other state protection agencies (eg., Equal Opportunity Commission) for assistance. But when, harassment, be it sexual, or otherwise, takes place on the Internet, the level of protection that is available in face to face situations, simply is not there especially if the attackers are anonymous, as is often the case.

Professor Bartow explains that this lack of protection from cyberterrorism, or online harassment, is mainly due to the glaring loopholes in US privacy and harassment protection laws courtesy of the protective First Amendment protections and freedom of information laws in the US. As a result, victims of internet harassment and bullying are left to fend for themselves and are increasingly finding themselves at the mercy of entrepreneurs in the guise of ‘reputation repair’ consultants.

The ‘repair management’ companies tend to offer services to assist the victims to manage the information available on them on the Internet, not by erasing it (although some claim to be able to do so), but in practically all cases, by suppressing it – pushing it lower down the page ranks of the popular search engines.  Professor Bartow observes that generally the harder the abusers try to reduce the abundance of negative commentary on the Internet, the worse the problem appears to get. This appears to particularly in the case of women.

The Launch of the Internet ‘ProtectionBusiness

The Internet reputation protection business was effectively launched as a result of a recent spate of celebrity-type incidents of cyber sexual harassment and bullying and an abundance of not-so-hi-profile others.

The businesses promise to ‘squeaky-clean’ your online image to leave you free to go about your day to day basis knowing that your Internet reputation is intact.  However, as Professor Bartow points out,  these ‘knights in shining armour’ are not such gifts as they make themselves out to be for the very reason that it is in their interest to have as many people as possible harassed on the Internet.

Furthermore, due to their skills in the art of ‘de-dissing’, they are in excellent positions to do the opposite to prospective clients to increase the size of the market.  She points out that these companies also have little incentive to support changes in the law that would restrict the cyber terror of victims and enable them to seek the assistance of the courts without too much problems.

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