Recently the kind people and the brainiac attorney Paul Levy at Public Citizen contacted me and asked if I had any knowledge about a lawsuit filed in Rhode Island by a “Bradley Smith” in California against an alleged “Deborah Garcia” in Rhode Island that resulted in a court order to remove pages from GetOutOfDebt.org from Google.
I had no knowledge of the case which was discovered by Adam Steinbaugh in his perusing court records. A big hat tip to Adam.
The case appears to be a possible attempt by a reputation management company to scrub search engines of information that might be unpopular but not inaccurate. There are such companies who claim they offer a service like this.
These sorts of actions might seem clever to some who want to try and hide information on the internet. But as clever as this might seem, it is a strategy that is also being used to hide information about criminal activity, mugshots, news stories about murders, bad company reviews about horrible service, and anything else that someone does not want you to read about.
Now here is a real possible use of the fake lawsuit strategy to remove information. A convicted pedophile moves into your neighborhood but he doesn’t want people to know about his criminal past. He pays a reputation management company or files a fake lawsuit to have the search engines remove factual pages.
Here is how one website spoke about just such a suit they were involved with and why it was bogus.
As that site said, “Why is a court order like this so controversial? Because — an order requiring the removal of Internet content is like the death penalty for speech. Once something is removed from the web, it’s gone forever. Of course, that is not always a bad thing. We do not want people posting false statements on our website, so if a court actually (and correctly) determines that speech is false, we are generally happy to remove it. But on the other hand, it’s way too easy for bad guys to manipulate the system by getting truthful information removed with a court order. That means website owners are constantly struggling to find the right balance between removing false speech while protecting truthful speech.
See, unfortunately courts are busy and despite the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on the justice system, judges do not have the time or the ability to go out and personally investigate the truth of every case. Instead, judges must rely on the information presented to them, but there is virtually no way to stop people from gaming the system and tricking judges into signing orders that amount to pure censorship of the truth.”
Right about now you might be thinking I’m talking about something that would never happen. Well here is what one reputation management company advertises.
“We offer guaranteed removal of negative articles on news websites and online newspapers.”
“If you’ve got a negative story that’s been written about you, you probably know this first hand. Contacting the editor of a newspaper to request removal of the article is often fruitless.”
“We’re one of the few firms that is able to offer guaranteed removal of news stories from online newspapers. And while this service is not cheap, it is definitely permanent. You won’t have to answer anymore questions about it and it won’t get in the way of you doing business or finding a job.”
So what makes me think the lawsuit I’m involved with is fake and Brad Smith may be a victim as well? Well the suit alleges in this case that Bradley Smith, at an address in California associated with Rescue One Financial, filed a lawsuit without going through his legal counsel. That is highly unlikely in itself. The suit then identifies two allegedly defamatory comments that appear on Alleged Former Employee Speaks Out About Rescue One Financial Loan Offers but the court order is to remove posts about two other debt relief companies, Financial Rescue and Debt Relief Centers of America.
So why would Bradley Smith of Rescue One Financial file a lawsuit for the benefit of competitors?
One of the comments wasn’t even directed at Bradley Smith or Rescue One Financial at all but at Matt Hearn. And for the record, I think Matt Hearn is a hell of a nice guy.
I’m not going to get into the weeds here with case details but if you’d like to know more I would invite you to read Bradley Smith v Deborah Garcia: Reputation Management by “Consent Order” Gets Even Weirder for an update.
These reputation management companies are charging $5,000 to $12,000 or more per page to get it removed using a strategy like this bogus lawsuit.
More to come for sure. But if you have any information you’d like to share, email me here.
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