Gossip site harms west Edmonton business owner’s online rep
By Shaamini Yogaretnam
EDMONTON—A west-end resident and business owner is feeling the sting of negative search results to her online reputation after being posted on a popular North American gossip website.
Rose Rosales, 26, CEO of Nouveau Riche International Model and Talent Management, was posted on TheDirty.com in November of 2011. The user-generated site offers people in major cities the chance to upload pictures of someone they would like to slam, call out or complain about.
The post has hit her and her cyber-clout hard.
“I became aware of the post within a few days of it being posted,” Rosales says. Some of her models texted her letting her know her name appeared on the site. The photograph used in the post was not actually of Rosales. While she had known about the site, she didn’t frequent it.
“I try not to go on there,” Rosales says.
The post, which Rosales believes was written by a former business contact, alleges that Nouveau Riche is a fraudulent company and lays personal insult against Rosales as its owner.
Rosales maintains that the allegations of fraud are unfounded. She was surprised by the accusations.
“I was quite upset, kind of disgusted, because I have never owed anyone outrageous amounts of money like [the post suggests],” she says. “For someone to go out of their way and make lies up about it was just unreal.”
The post also criticizes Rosales for using the Internet as a recruiting ground.
“I do use online classifieds and social networks to recruit models and I’ve never regretted it,” she says.
The impact of the Internet
For Nouveau Riche, a home-based business that has only been operating since July 2009, the Internet is an important part of success. Rosales relies heavily on working with local charities and the buzz that work generates online.
“I think it’s huge. It’s almost an integral part of our business.”
Rosales has made peace with the limited legal options she has to force TheDirty.com to remove the post. Her concern now, more than four months after the post was created, is that it’s still on the first page of Google search results for her name. The hit lingers longer than the spat with the former contact.
“That’s the only thing I’m fearful of, how it’s going to damage my name in the future,” Rosales says.
“I have lost some potential models,” she said of women whose family members had Googled her name to see what other work the agency had done, only to find the less than flattering comments made on TheDirty.com.
“I feel personally that my name is tainted.”
Managing your online reputation
Victims of sites like TheDirty.com or of any other unwanted Internet attention must outsmart the algorithm that search engines use, says Wendy Hanlan, president of the Edmonton Social Media Club and owner of Hanlan Communications.
“Any slight online is going to sting,” Hanlan says. Potential employers, acquaintances and even dates are turning to Google as their first source of information about anyone they meet.
Legal options for those who think they’ve been defamed on the Internet deal mostly with getting the content removed. In the world of hits and search engine analytics, the time that it would take to get content removed only gives the undesirable link the right conditions to get more popular.
“You don’t get it down, you drown it,” Hanlan says.
The difficulty with TheDirty.com is that the site is hugely popular and its posts rank highly on Google as a result. Its traffic ranks 2,514 in the U.S.
Hanlan says if posted parties or others register as commenters and comment on the original post or on other reputable sites, the algorithm could bury the dirt.
The online reputation management industry is growing rapidly because of the relative ease and widespread damage involved in posting anonymously online.
A Google search for “online reputation industry” returns 49.5 million results.
Jurisdiction and confrontation
Legally, Canadian victims of TheDirty.com have few options when dealing with the site.
According to the law, much of the content posted on TheDirty.com is defamatory, but the challenge victims face is what to do about it, says Sean Ward, a partner with RMRF LLP in Edmonton who practises in the area of media law.
“It’s published on the Internet and probably typically identifies a specific individual and it’s pretty clear a lot of the stuff on there would be defamatory in nature about somebody,” Ward says. “There are lots of issues in launching a defamation action, but that’s not to say it’s not defamatory.”
The issues are of a practical nature. TheDirty.com is an American website run by a man who operates under the name Nik Richie.
“It’s not a Canadian website. You’d be chasing down people in different jurisdictions and you wouldn’t know exactly who to chase down,” says Ward.
Rosales says her lawyer told her the same thing.
“There’s really no option unless I want to spend upwards of $50,000 to bring a case from the U.S. into Canada. But even then with a judgment, they can always fight it,” she says.
The site does offer an option to request to have your post removed. She contacted the site within a few weeks of being posted, Rosales says.
“They had written me back saying that I was being considered for removal but, to date, there’s still nothing. I sent a follow-up email and I still haven’t heard back.”
Rosales’s lawyer suggested she try getting a takedown notice issued under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), an American act that regulates copyright infringement on American sites.
“All I ever got was an auto-reply to acknowledge that they received my complaint, and that’s it.”
Another option that is often overlooked in this newly dawned digital age of anonymous Internet posting is that those slammed likely know the person who posted the content and could litigate against him or her.
“To the extent that you know who the source of the info is and that person presumably is local and Canadian, you can pursue action against that person in the most direct way of dealing with it,” says Ward.
Going directly to the poster and asking him or her to take down the content might be the best option to preserve online reputation as well, says Hanlan.
“Postings may contain erroneous and inaccurate information.”
Although the World Wide Web is still largely seen as the Wild Wild West, for Rosales and others like her there are real consequences to online character assault. Rosales still deals with the effects of the post but isn’t deterred from having an online presence, especially when she considers the other posts she has seen on the site.
“It could be a lot worse.”
Attempts to contact TheDirty.com and Nik Richie were not immediately answered.
The following disclaimer appears on the bottom of the website: “TheDirty.com, the world’s first ever reality blogger™, is all about gossip and satire. The content that is published contains rumours, speculation, assumptions, opinions, and factual information. Postings may contain erroneous or inaccurate information. All images are credited to their original location. The owner of this site does not ensure the accuracy of any content presented on TheDirty.com.©”