Character Assassination, Hello Peter and the Streisand effect

On Thursday some allegations were made in a comment and I am going to tell you why I will not engage. There are three sides to every story it is said, his, mine and the truth. This article is going to talk about how to handle character assassination on the web and I am going to use a few real world examples to illustrate.

For those of you that don't know, Hello Peter is a website that allows “customers” to complain about bad service. These customers can be anonymous as they have user names. Companies fall into two categories those that respond and those that don't. The only way for a company to respond is by paying Peter Cheales a sum of money. From personal experience I know that Peter Cheales is not resident in South Africa, does not respond to emails asking for details and doesn't care that the customer may be telling porkies. What this means is that unless you pay Cheales, you have no right of response.

This is not a fair system and fortunately some people are intelligent enough to see this. To others however if it's on the internet it's real. Let's say I am a small business and am losing client share to another small company, there is nothing to stop me from posting something negative about my opposition. My opposition may be small enough to not want to spend the money on Cheales' extortion or needs the money for something more important like fuel, wages etc. As a small business owner Hello Peter has had a minimal effect on my business to my knowledge, Their footprint is smaller than they hope.

The Streisand effect basically boils down to that which you want to control on the web cannot be controlled. It was named the Streisand effect because Barbara Streisand wanted to prevent pictures of her house being shown on the web. She went legal and found out thet there are 127 986 and more trolls out there that will subvert legal rulings and that pictures will go viral.

A few years ago I developed a web product that allowed small businesses to go online for minimum cost, by maintaining and adding their own content to their website. There were free services offering something similar, but my package included a domain registration and basic setup. In essence I was offering a service that required a little input from me and we sold packages hand over fist. 32 in about 16 days. Another thing that comes to mind here is that some people are just too stupid to be allowed near the web. Some have champagne tastes and beer money, Some expect a Rolls Royce when they pay for a mini.

Back to my tale. Some bloke that has never met me, has not ever spoken to me directly decided that this was a bad idea and needed some adverse information. To this day I have no idea what his motives were, but without seeing the code he slated it on the internet. I may never have heard about this but for one thing, I was a very involved blogger and the South African blogosphere picked up on it and a few people wrote about it.

I panicked and made loud noises, made a few threats and sent lawyers letters. Suddenly I was the evil one, wanting to censor the internet and stop others from their use of free speech. Then the blogosphere really started in on this. If you search Google, you can still find lingering traces of this saga. My lesson from this is do not engage, ever. You will end up being the subject of a zillion articles and when it's on the web it's true.

Someone made the giant leap that if it was untrue you can sue for defamation or whatever. In the real world this is not so easy, You need a to know who your accuser is and you need deep pockets, The last time I spent money on legal services the lawyers wanted a bag full of money before they would start. Anyone who has had any legal doings knows that the person that can spend the most, lie the best is generally the winner. The bloke battling to pay his rent is never the winner.

There are a number of things I can tell you but get just this one, do not engage, people are petty and to some the only motivation to kick someone is that they are on the ground. The damage is less costly that way. You are welcome.