Originally written on April 6, 2010
Let me first start by offering a common definition of libel courtesy of the free dictionary
a. A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person’s reputation.
b. The act of presenting such material to the public.
Here are a few more definitions of libel pertaining to US law and defamation of character courtesy of a legal site
To defame, or expose to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, by a writing, picture, sign, to lampoon.
To publish in print writing or pictures, broadcast through radio, television or film something that is false about someone else which would cause harm to that person or his/her reputation by bringing the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn, or contempt of others.
Published material meeting three conditions: The material is defamatory either on its face or indirectly; The defamatory statement is about someone who is identifiable to one or more persons; and, The material must be distributed to someone other than the offended party; i.e. published.
The purpose of this article is to give a personal account of my recent experiences trying to remove and defend myself against libelous statements published about me on the internet. It is my intent to spread awareness of websites that post, and in many ways, encourage libelous actions. I am referring specifically to a website that allows supposed ex-girlfriends/boyfriends to give accounts of their particular experiences with a former lover/spouse/significant other. I will not give the actual name of the offending website for obvious reasons, but suffice to say, anyone with an e-mail address can create an account and anonymously write anything their heart desires about the “offending” ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. Names, places of residence, colleges attended, mental health diagnosis’s and any other sort of personal information can be posted (other than social security/credit card numbers which would get the website removed from Google). There is no limit whatsoever as to what can be written, and no accountability by either the website, the website hosting company or the person writing the libelous statements.
Unfortunately, if you live in the United States, you essentially have no recourse to get the offending post removed. This is particularly egregious if this information is prominent in Google searches where it is estimated that almost eighty percent of employers do a Google search on potential employees. There is no way to know what sort of damage finding such a posting could do to someone seeking employment as no employer would ever admit that a potential candidate was disqualified simply because they came across one of these libelous posts and took it as fact, or at least as enough evidence of having a lack of character. As far as the law is concerned, you do have a right to file a civil suit for libel or defamation of character, but that can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees and may or may not get the libelous information removed, even then, it may reappear at some point in the future on another website that cached the original posting. In some states, libel is a criminal offense, but I would highly doubt a state would go through the trouble to prosecute unless the libelous statements led to a more serious crime.
So basically, there is little that can be done to actually remove the offending post, it is forever a part of your name, and something you have to live and deal with. In my particular case: I came across one of these libelous posts when I Googled my name. It appeared on the very first page. I opened the link and read a very lengthy and detailed account of all of the atrocities I committed against my anonymous accuser. There is no time line given, so it essentially reads as a current account. My first reaction upon reading this was a feeling of guilt and self-hatred. Many of the statements about my character and behavior were accurate. However, this relationship occurred nearly five years ago, and only lasted a few months. I have had no contact with the person I believe to be the anonymous poster in over four years, and from what I can ascertain, this post was made just a few months ago. This was, in every sense of the meaning; libel. An attempt to publicly humiliate me by revealing intimate details of my past as well as making false statements and accusations presented as fact.
Before I begin defending my name against the truly libelous statements, I will take full responsibility for the portions that are truthful and/or otherwise accurate. I was genuinely a controlling and jealous jerk. I began abusing drugs again a couple of months into the relationship after an attempt at complete sobriety. I stole money from the accuser and perpetually lied and manipulated this person (and many others as well) in order to continue abusing drugs. I eventually admitted every one of my transgressions to this person, made full restitution for what I had stolen and have always felt guilt and remorse for my actions. As previously mentioned, I have had no contact with this person in over four years and I have moved on with my life and have made great strides, through therapy and the help of friends and family, to modify and change the behaviors I exhibited in that relationship.
It is a horrible feeling to see some of the terrible transgressions of one’s past publicly displayed for anyone to see. Of course I am ultimately responsible for the poor choices I have made, but I have been accountable for those choices and have moved on. Let me now point out some of the many statements that constitute libel (although the entire post is libelous since its only intent is to publicly humiliate me). For one, it states that I “might” have warrants out for my arrest in two different cities in Illinois. This is completely false, and was a knowingly false statement considering that warrants for one’s arrest are publicly accessible (especially in my case where the crimes I am supposedly wanted for are check fraud and auto theft—serious felonies). The post goes on to state that I am potentially violent and dangerous and will seek revenge against anyone that will not give in to my will. Again, there is no evidence to support this. I have never been violent toward anyone at any time. The poster even contradicts their statement in that regard when they state that they unsuccessfully attempted to obtain an order of protection against me. If that were indeed true, no order was given because I had done nothing to that person that would give just cause for issuing such an order.
The post goes on to state as fact that I was receiving social security for a mental disorder, despite having well paying side jobs. These “well paying” side jobs were giving tennis lessons for the parks and rec department making about four-hundred dollars per month, every cent of which, the social security administration has documentation of. Even though almost every egregious behavior of mine would be considered a textbook case of behaviors relating to drug abuse/addiction, the poster claims that they saw no evidence of my drug use. Quite unique that I am in a situation where I have to prove that I used drugs, usually it’s the other way around. In that respect, I suppose the times that I disappeared for days at a time with flimsy excuses and explanations; the fact that a friend of the poster witnessed me purchasing drugs in a known “high profile” drug area; and every other thing I did which would suggest I was abusing drugs; this was all just mere coincidence. In no way will I attempt to defame my anonymous accuser, but I do deserve a chance to repudiate public libel. I could honestly write a book on the character and psychiatric issues of my accuser, but I will take the high road. I have admitted and taken responsibility for my actions. I have never and will never try to anonymously humiliate another private person in a public forum. This post gives details of every place I have lived, the college I supposedly did not graduate from and essentially paints me as a monster. I have a right to defend my name and my reputation.
My reputation management attempts appeared to be working quite well. I had set up blogs, joined various social network sites, professional sites… you name it. The post had been bumped back a few pages in the search results in just a couple of weeks. But alas, that post was now the very first thing to come up on a Google search on my name. That is simply no accident. I initially thought it was my accuser getting wind that I was trying to re-build my reputation and retaliating by having everyone they know click the link as often as possible to bump it up in the Google search results. But then I received a link to a blog that mentions the possibility that Google has now initiated a so-called “quality deserves diversity” algorithm which actually gives precedence to known libelous websites. This would indeed explain why the libelous post about me suddenly shot up to number one overall in Google searches results and has remained in the third spot for over a month. If it is indeed true, then every single person who is or has been in a similar situation as me, can now depend on one of the largest and most powerful corporations on the planet to promote the illegitimate activities of sites dedicated to spreading lies that ruin careers and relationships.
Whether it be motives of Google to highlight sites known for encouraging and spreading libel through the use of their “quality deserves diversity” algorithm, or a tenacious and delusional anonymous person trying to publicly ruin me and hinder future business and personal opportunities: the fact is, I have moved on with my life. I have taken responsibility for my past transgressions. I have taken back my name. I cannot change the past, and I cannot change the fact that there is someone out there who cannot move on with their life and who deems it necessary to defame and humiliate me. The poster stated that they were sharing that information in an attempt to help save helpless women from a monster like me. Well, it didn’t work too well. I’ve been in a committed and loving relationship for two and a half years now. My girlfriend has read the post and already knew of most of my past and knows what kind of man I am today. I truly do regret my behavior and the harm I caused this person years ago. But I am Todd Curl, and the positive things written about me far outweigh the negative and the libelous…despite what Google thinks.