Crowd-sourced Violence

I recently assisted a family that suffered from the actions of a small group of misguided, radical, and dangerously fanatical persecutors who use the Internet as a force multiplier. This campaign degenerated into a violent attack on the children. Fortunately, the family has the support of the employer. The provided security driver got the children to safety before the attackers caused any serious injuries or death.

The family can’t sell their city home because of the risk this would pose to the new owners. Their country property was located by the radicals and the onslaught of harassment, vandalism, and arson started again. After vacating the country property, it must now be guarded around the clock like the vacant city home.

This type of crowd-sourced attack is something that executives and security professionals must deal with before it occurs. People who might be exposed to this risk will have to go through their lives to find the leads that motivated persecutors will use to find them. These leads will have to be removed, made irrelevant, or altered. This is not a small task and it is very difficult to do when things are peaceful. Doing it while under attack might be impossible because the attackers probably possess the data you would seek to remove or obscure.


Online Persecutors Must Be Taken Seriously

Fanatical persecutors who use the Internet are a real danger. Not just a danger to one’s reputation, but to life itself. Korean Canadian hip hop artist Daniel Lee had his career severely damaged by an orchestrated campaign to cast doubt on his academic career at Stanford.

As a Wired article outlines, one disgruntled person can easily start a dangerous campaign to destroy a person’s reputation and that could lead to violence or dramatically alter the victim’s life as he tries to avoid the virtual lynch-mob that might materialize in real-life.


Operational Risk & Lawfare

Recently, I have been involved in a series of jobs involving Operational Risk.

Operational Risk arises from:

  • inadequate or failed processes and controls,
  • people
  • systems
  • external events
  • contractual obligations
  • compliance issues
  • lawfare

Lawfare is the most interesting aspect of this type of work. Lawfare is a form of asymmetric warfare that is waged via the courts with the intention of damaging the firm. Special interest groups, radicals, and competitors will use this to create financial damage and create ill will towards the targeted company.

The Investigator’s task is usually to identify the funding sources and relationship of the plaintiff to individuals and groups who would benefit from the use of this tactic.

Managing reputation through search results

Karen Blakeman’s Blog has an interesting article on removing unwanted references in Google and social media.

Removing information about you from Google

…you cannot make Google remove information you do not like except in very specific circumstances, for example copyrighted material on YouTube, images of you or your house on Street View.

…oft cited example of  how not to tackle bad publicity is that of Nestle. (Just Google Nestle social media fail or Nestle social media disaster.) “Nestle fails at social media

Disgruntled Employees Outdo Terrorists

Two articles on the Brand Killer Robots blog drew my attention. Not because the data offered anything new, but that Stephen Ryan was able to create a bot to clearly show that insiders, employees, and former employees are the most likely to launch cyber attacks.

Raps BOT : Predicts Insider Cyber Terrorism Threat HIGH

Raps Bot : Sniper Attack Methods – Number 1 Cyber Terrorism Threat

The 15 Biggest Wikipedia Blunders

Wikipedia’s just announced plans to restrict the editing of some of its articles. Under the new system, any changes made to pages of still-living people will have to be approved by an “experienced volunteer” before going online.

The 15 biggest  Wikipedia blunders is a must read for anybody interested in reputation management.

Once the Cat’s Out of the Bag

I started with a very interesting article about what you might find in a college newspaper that would be interesting to an investigator.

One thing leads to another and I also found an article about a study of how quickly social sites remove pictures. Some sites take up to 30 days to really get rid of the offending images. This is an important thing to understand if your are looking for derogatory pictures.

Your (journalistic) past can haunt you online

Once the cat is out of the bag, you probably won’t be able to catch her and stuff her back inside…

That (now) embarrassing article you wrote for your college newspaper three years ago? It’s still online. And when people Google you, they find it…

Apparently a lot of student newspapers are receiving requests from former student writers to remove or “hide” (from Google) articles of which they are now ashamed…

…requests by former students who were featured in articles in the student newspaper. Campus police arrests for drunkenness, that sort of thing. They would like those articles to be removed or “hidden.”…

Here’s a related story about someone trying to get an old newspaper story erased from the search engines. Article published in The Seattle Times on Aug. 15, 2008.

Websites keep deleted photos, study shows

Cambridge researchers have shown that photos aren’t always deleted when users ask, causing a major ‘data remanence’ issue for cloud computing.

According to a study of 16 social networking, blogging and photo sharing sites…most of them failed to remove photos after users deleted them…

Spread FUD Not Propaganda

An excellent article at Knowledge Is Power about using a blog to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) about competitors and manage the spin on news about its rivals while usually reporting positively about your own employer.

Another post about Black PR defines this as distinct from a disinformation campaign.

On-line Fences

The US Government Accountability Office says that stolen sensitive military items have been purchased by undercover government officials on Craigslist and eBay. However, this is like the kettle calling the pot black. The same subcommittee determined that the Defense Department sold chemical protective suits and biological warfare laboratory equipment to the public.

While it is easy to see an element of fear mongering in this, it does remind us that private sector businesses should be checking eBay and Craigslist for their own product and counterfeits. Doing so may reveal a problem with theft, grey marketing, or counterfeiting.

The Investigator’s Internet Tool Kit

An article about Online Reputation Monitoring for Competitive Intelligence has let the cat out of the bag — there are investigative tools to get more from the Internet than you will find with simple search strings.

There are tools for searching Google to uncover details about your company that you would never think of publishing freely, tools for searching social networks to locate competitive intelligence information from employees or ex-employees, tools for digging into content to locate copyright materials and tools for conducting linguistic scans for flagging up dirty words associated with your products or derogatory associations with your brand.

Getting Out of Facebook

Jill Fenton reports on an article about how difficult it is to delete your Facebook profile.

(Un)social networking

I have been interested to read the pros and cons of social networking sites (the girl who’s been banned from having a house party for 10 years, for example!) and came across this recent article in the Sunday Times regarding how to delete your Facebook profile (rather than just ‘deactive’ it – the Facebook default).

“If you visit the account section of Facebook you are offered only the opportunity to “deactivate”. This merely hides your public profile until you next log in. It’s a useful option if you are likely to return. To delete your details permanently you must first unearth the anonymous-looking customer service form that is hidden away at When completing this form tell Facebook in both the subject and the message fields that you wish to have your account deleted. To check if this has been done properly either create a fake Facebook account or ask a friend to search for your details a few days later.”

Reputation Management

A growing proportion of our research is directed at reputation management efforts. It is very easy for someone to put up a Web site or Blog that libels a company or person anonymously.

I found two excellent articles about companies that claim to erase, or at least push lower in the search engines results, negative comments about a company. The first, is on an MSNBC Blog called The Red Tape Chronicles and the second is on Forbes.

I have no idea about the effectiveness of these services, but they represent an interesting concept.


I’m a firm believer in letting other people do my research. Why should I do ‘original’ work that has already been done. When we do research to assist reputation management a lot of work has been done for us by rumourmonger and rumor debunking sites like Snopes. However, some malicious rumors originate with jealous competitors and radicals and require extensive research to identify the source, intent, and motive.

For instance, rumors that one company or other is owned by the KKK or one CEO or another donates money to the Church of Satan have circulated for decades. However, the Internet have given such rumors wings.

Companies can be destroyed by malicious rumors. A soft drink marketed to minorities in northeastern US cities, was almost bankrupted by a rumor that the drink contained a chemical that would make black men sterile.

Rumors can put lives at risk. In 2005 a rumor spread by cell phone text messages caused violent riots in Pakistan. The rumor was that men would loose their manhood if they shook hands with a foreigner.

In Rumor in the Marketplace: The Social Psychology of Commercial Hearsay (Auburn House Publishing, 1985), the authors suggest a public and forceful denial of the rumor as soon as possible by using solid evidence backed by experts. Sometimes the expert evidence is expert research that debunks the rumor.