For seven months of 2010, through no fault of my own, I was harassed, defamed, and "cyberstalked" online by someone I had had no prior contact with.

This article details the particulars of that experience, discusses the issue, and clarifies that

The Anonymous and Defamatory Statements Posted About Me Online Are Patently False.

Why You're Here

You've likely arrived here for one of several reasons:
  1. You've recently met me, searched for me, have come across negative (and false) information about me (also known as 'online defamation'), and are learning more,
  2. You know me and have stumbled across this page whilst visiting one of my websites,
  3. You're a victim of online defamation, and are seeking information and answers, or
  4. You're otherwise doing research on this subject and this page was returned by a search engine.
Regardless of your reason, I implore you to read on! This is an important issue and millions of people worldwide are affected each year.


On this page, I'll endeavor to:

My Story: The Short Version

In late 2009 and early 2010, my brother was involved in an online quarrel with a 'customer' over what may or may not have been a legitimate business complaint. This customer eventually created several websites about the issue and those involved, purportedly to warn off others and to recover money 'taken' from him.  Additionally, my brother informed me that he had learned that this 'customer' was also a professional extortionist who harasses business owners online until they pay him to 'make it stop', and that he had made multiple demands for cash of him and his partner.

In early April, 2010, the dispute escalated, the customer began researching my brother, and found a copy of my stepfather's obituary1 (thank you, search engines) which had been published online by a local newspaper (thank you, Youngstown Vindicator). He took information from the obituary and used it to craft defamatory 'stories' about my stepfather (both through impersonation - posting stories ostensibly written by him 'confessing' to crimes and immoral behavior, and by making accusations directly), and posted them online. He then researched each family member mentioned in the obituary as next-of-kin, and in my case, this research yielded information on my several businesses, several websites, and most of my contact information (previous addresses, multiple phone numbers, multiple email addresses, etc.).

Neither I, nor anyone in my family other than my brother, had ever had dealings or any communication of any kind with this person, yet in mid-April, in order to harm my brother (seemingly), he began to harass us. He harassed me via email, telephone, and through anonymous defamatory posts on online message boards and websites, and he harassed my mother and sister through similar anonymous defamatory posts. These posts were generally false allegations of fraud, criminal wrongdoing, and statements of criminal charges and criminal conviction directed at both me and my businesses, and false allegations of sexual misconduct (both generally, and through impersonation and 'confession', as with my stepfather).

This harassment continued until mid-October, when I finally gave in and changed the mobile telephone number I'd had for nearly a decade.

On multiple occasions, I contacted local and state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida. Of these, only the FBI was in a position to help, and they declined because I'm only an individual, and am apparently not worthy of help given their 'limited resources.' When I protested that online harassment of this nature can ruin lives and listed the laws that were being broken, the agent I spoke to grew angry, told me not to tell them their job, and aggressively stated that (paraphrasing) "they know the law and don't need my help."  He then suggested I fill out a web form at the IC3 website; I did so, and never heard from them again.

During this period, I pursued removal of the defamatory posts by sending emails and letters threatening legal action, and was generally fairly successful (for those interested, the letters are provided in the long version and in the 'Resources' section). Currently, only the posts on PissedConsumer.com ("PC") and RipOffReport.com ("ROR") remain. Many believe, and evidence seems to suggest, that these 'consumer protection' sites - shielded by US law (see below) - are themselves extortion schemes. Indeed, ROR advertises both a 'Corporate Advocacy Program' and a 'VIP Arbitration Program', both of which require the defamed business or individual to pay ROR to 'investigate', 'arbitrate', and/or 'mediate' claims or disputes before they can be removed from the site (and whether they'll ultimately be removed isn't guaranteed). There are also many allegations that ROR owner Ed Magedson (and his legal team), more directly extort those affected, and courts have described their policies and behavior as "appalling" (but are powerless to stop it).

Generally, sites like PC and ROR rank fairly highly in the major search engines' results pages because they receive a lot of traffic, and this creates a problem in that anyone searching for me (or anyone similarly defamed) often finds them. I don't imagine I need to explain why this is bad.

For their parts, Google, Yahoo!, and Bing refuse to remove links like these from their search indices without a court order, which can be costly to pursue, and difficult or impossible to obtain. Most attorneys in this space want a $10,000 retainer, make clear that the process will likely cost quite a lot more, and generally don't (and can't) guarantee any results. Indeed, I've read stories of people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars only to lose their cases at trial (or before).

All of the above - and my desire to clarify, for both personal and professional reasons, that the defamatory statements posted about me online are false - has led to the creation of this page.

My Story: The Long Version

Coming soon!

What Can Be Done About This?

If you have experienced - or are experiencing - similar, there are several questions you should ask before determining how to proceed:

Ongoing Harassment

  1. Stay calm,
  2. If you have an opportunity, clearly, calmly, directly, and unambiguously tell your harasser once, and once only, that you want them to stop harassing, bothering, or otherwise contacting you;
    1. You may or may not make clear that you'll contact the authorities if the harassment continues,
    2. Record this interaction!
  3. Educate yourself about 'cyberstalking', online defamation, libel, and related issues,
  4. Learn and collect information about your attacker,
  5. Make a record of each and every telephone call, email, defamatory blog post, message, comment, ad, or other statement; print or make a digital copy, record voicemail messages, and consider recording telephone conversations, if possible,
  6. Contact the online service(s) where you're having problems, and explain the situation and ask for their advice; if necessary, delete accounts or change usernames,
  7. Contact service providers:
    1. If you're being harassed via telephone, contact the telephone company - they are obligated (by law) to ensure their facilities are not used to harass or threaten others, and they will help you; consider changing your number,
    2. If via the Internet, you may contact both your service provider and the service provider of the harasser (if known), though often it can be difficult to trace the origin of online communications, particularly if the sender is even moderately sophisticated,
    3. Keep records of all contacts and interactions,
  8. Contact the National Center for Victims of Crime and/or WHO@,
  9. Contact the authorities; keep records of all contacts and interactions,
  10. Contact a lawyer; if the authorities are unable or unwilling to help either quickly, or at all, this may be your only option,
  11. Consider whether to attempt to have posts removed.

Defamatory Online Posts

Removing defamatory posts online can be rather tricky.  You have several options:
  1. Send emails and/or letters to the service hosting the content:

        Example 1:

    From: Brian W. Gortney, II [mailto:bwg@pannexusa.com]
    Sent: Monday, May 03, 2010 9:29 AM
    To: pissedconsumer@domainsbyproxy.com
    Cc: legal@godaddy.com; generalmanager@domainsbyproxy.com
    Subject: Defamatory Statements

    Editors/Owners (PissedConsumer.com),

    Several defamatory statements alleging various criminal acts were posted to your website (PissedConsumer.com) today, May 3rd, 2010.  These postings are baseless and patently false, and likely constitute one or more violations of state and federal civil (and potentially criminal) law as defamation per se and/or libel per se.  They are also a clear violation of your domain registratar's published terms of service and domain registration agreement, which prohibit you from engaging in activities that defame others, or that are tortious.

    I hereby request that you remove the following post/link immediately:
    • [URL redacted to prevent indexing]

    Additionally, and though I understand that you may prefer to wait for a subpoena, I would appreciate if you would provide the following information so the offending poster can be located:
     * IP address associated with the account used to post the above referenced statements;
     * Email address(es) used to create (or otherwise associated with) the above account;
     * Precise time and date of posting; and
     * Any other identifying information you may have regarding the original author of the post.

    Because your domain registration is private, I've carbon copied the business and legal teams at your domain registrar, GoDaddy.com, and their private registration service, DomainsByProxy.com, here.  If the above post is not removed forthwith, I may proceed with legal action, which will include discovery of your identity.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

    Brian W. Gortney, II

    Brian W. Gortney, II
    Pannex Corporation
    Ph:  850.582.2181

        Example 2  (PDF PDF Version):

    May 21, 2010


    Via Domains By Proxy, Inc.
    15111 N. Hayden Rd.
    Ste 160, PMB 353
    Scottsdale, AZ  85260

    Re:      ScamFound.com Website
                Defamatory Statements

    Owners/Editors – ScamFound.com,

    Several defamatory statements and links to defamatory statements alleging various criminal acts were published on your website by what appears to be a ComplaintsBoard.com RSS-feed “bot” on May 2nd and May 3rd, 2010.  

    The original postings (which were quickly removed) were baseless and false, and were part of an ongoing criminal campaign of defamation, harassment, and tortious interference.  To wit:  there have been posts to Internet message boards, and to news and scam-sites alleging various misdeeds and illegal conduct, we have received numerous harassing and threatening telephone calls, and our business has been impacted.

    In all cases, the online posts constitute defamation per se and/or libel per se, the telephone calls constitute harassment, and the intentional disruption of our business constitutes tortious interference.  Separately, these acts are violations of various United States State and Federal civil and criminal laws.  Due to their ongoing and coincident nature, and given their commission by one actor, they also constitute “cyberstalking.”

    Additionally, the posts are a clear violation of your domain registrar's (GoDaddy.com) published terms of service and domain registration agreement, your private registration service’s (DomainsByProxy.com) proxy agreement, and your web host’s (Worldstream.nl) conditions of service.  All variously prohibit you from engaging or participating in illegal or morally objectionable activities, activities that run counter to established norms, activities that defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten or harass others, and/or activities that are tortious.

    I hereby request that you remove the posts and content at, links, and any references to, the following URLs, immediately:
    • [URL redacted to prevent indexing]
    • [URL redacted to prevent indexing]
    • [URL redacted to prevent indexing]
    • [URL redacted to prevent indexing]

    Please understand that the posting and publication of this information is a violation of one or more US Federal laws (including 47 USC §223), and therefore the safe harbors of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (codified at 47 USC §230), upon which your business relies, do not apply.  Consequently, if you continue to publish the above content, you may be held liable.

    Because your domain registration is private, I've copied the abuse, business, and legal teams at your domain registrar, GoDaddy.com, your private registration service, DomainsByProxy.com, and your webhosting provider, Worldstream, here.  If the above posts are not removed forthwith, I may proceed with legal action, which will begin with discovery of your identity.

    Thank you for your cooperation.

                                                                              /s/ Brian W. Gortney, II   
                                                                              Brian W. Gortney, II

    cc:  GoDaddy, Inc. – Legal and Abuse Departments (legal@godady.com, abuse@godaddy.com)
    Domains By Proxy, Inc. – General Manager/Legal Department (generalmanager@domainsbyproxy.com)
    Worldstream – Abuse Department (abuse@customerpanel.nl, info@worldstream.nl)

    Brian W. Gortney, II
    Pannex Corporation
    Ph:  850.582.2181

  2. Send emails and/or letters to web hosting companies, if the provider of the service is using one:
    (examples coming soon!)
  3. Send emails and/or letters to domain registrars and/or registration proxy services:
    (examples coming soon!)
  4. Contact an attorney and file a defamation lawsuit; seek an injunction barring publication of the content.
Things to consider:


If you haven't been harassed or defamed, but wish to protect yourself, you may find the following guidelines helpful:

Why Is This Wrong?  US Law and such.

Why is this wrong?  Well, aside from being immoral, disgusting, and about a dozen other adjectives, there are a handful of legal issues.

First, we have the crimes and torts of stalking, 'cyberstalking', defamation, and libel; and because some of the attacks were directed at my business - tortious interference.  Second, we have an array of issues related to defamation on the Internet on websites, blogs, or other similar services.

Let's start with the basic crimes and torts:


Stalking typically refers to the crime of repeated or continuous and unwanted attention from an individual toward another.  This behavior generally must make the target or object reasonably feel harassed, disturbed, fear for their safety, or must otherwise disrupt their life.

    From Black's Law, Ninth edition:

stalking. 1. The act or an instance of following another by stealth. 2. The offense of following or loitering near another, often surreptitiously, to annoy or harass that person or to commit a further crime such as assault or battery. - Some statutory definitions include an element that the person being stalked must reasonably feel harassed, alarmed, or distressed about personal safety or the safety of one or more persons for whom that person is responsible. And some definitions include acts such as telephoning another and remaining silent during the call

Stalking is a criminal offense in almost every jurisdiction.

In my case, I was harassed and 'stalked' electronically, which falls under the umbrella of the fairly 'new' concept of 'cyberstalking'.


'Cyberstalking' is the crime of stalking and/or harassing of a person - as above - using electronic devices such as the telephone, or the Internet, with the intent to disturb, bother, harass, annoy, scare, or otherwise disrupt the life of or cause distress in, the target.

It's generally committed with malice and intent to harm the victim, often by perpetrators with: While the word 'cyberstalking' is not defined under US federal law, it's generally used as a term to describe the commission of one or more crimes or torts related to harassment and stalking.  Most states do have statutes criminalizing 'cyberstalking' and related crimes; however, these laws are often ineffective - particularly when the 'cyberstalker' lives across state lines, and your local police are not technically sophisticated or simply have insufficient resources.

    Black's Law, Ninth edition defines 'cyberstalking' as:

cyberstalking. (1995) The act of threatening, harassing, or annoying someone through multiple e-mail messages, as through the Internet, esp. with the intent of placing the recipient in fear that an illegal act or an injury will be inflicted on the recipient or a member of the recipient's family or household.

This definition, as you can see, is a bit dated and only includes the sending of email messages as a method of contact.  Wikipedia has a more current and complete definition:

Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. It may include the making of false accusations or statements of fact (as in defamation), monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, the solicitation of minors for sex, or gathering information that may be used to harass.

Both stalking and cyberstalking - as criminal offenses - are treated more fully in the following section.


Defamation is the common law tort of harming the reputation of another person through either speaking, writing, or otherwise communicating false statements of fact that are likely to be perceived as negative by a third party.

Another concept that's important to understand is that some defamation may be 'actionable per se', which means that the defamation presents false statements of fact that are are innately harmful, on their face.  'Per se' defamation generally imputes criminal behavior, disease, sexual misconduct, and/or involves other like statements that can only be interpreted negatively.

    From Black's Law, Ninth Edition:

defamation, n. 1. The act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person. 2. A false written or oral statement that damages another's reputation.


actionable per se.  (Of defamatory words) legally and conclusively presumed defamatory.  In the law of defamation, words actionable per se are inherently libelous or slanderous. For example, if a person says of a fiduciary, "That person embezzles client funds," the utterance is actionable per se. The plaintiff does not have to allege or prove special damages.


defamation per se. (1928) A statement that is defamatory in and of itself and is not capable of an innocent meaning.


Libel is the tort of making a false statement that can harm - as in defamation - by publication in a fixed medium.

    Again, from Black's Law:

libel  n. 1. A defamatory statement expressed in a fixed medium, esp. writing but also a picture, sign, or electronic broadcast. Libel is classified as both a crime and a tort but is no longer prosecuted as a crime. - Also termed defamatory libel. 2. The act of making such a statement; publication of defamatory matter by written or printed words, by its embodiment in physical form or by any other form of communication that has the potentially harmful qualities characteristic of written or printed words.

Tortious Interference

Tortious interference is a common law 'business tort' that is generally divided into two categories:  interference with contracts, and interference with business relationships.

The first type involves directly interfering with an established contract, either by inducing breach or by disrupting the ability of either or both parties to fulfill their obligations under the contract.  This is called 'tortious interference with contractual relations'.

    Black's Law:

tortious interference with contractual relations.  A third party's intentional inducement of a contracting party to break a contract, causing damage to the relationship between the contracting parties.

The second type - the type we're most concerned with here - involves interference with business relationships, generally.  It occurs when a party acts to prevent another from successfully establishing or maintaining business relationships or employment with prospective customers or employers, thereby impairing its ability to conduct its affairs and interfering with its natural rights.  This is generally referred to as 'tortious interference with prospective [or 'a business'] advantage'.

    Black's Law:

tortious interference with prospective advantage.  An intentional, damaging intrusion on another's potential business relationship, such as the opportunity of obtaining customers or employment.


US Criminal Law - Online Harassment

In the US today, the criminal laws dealing with online harassment are fragmented across several sections of US code, and are, apparently, inadequate:  they are ineffective in dealing with the problem itself, and in cleaning up the remnants. 

Additionally, our national law enforcement agencies lack the resources to pursue all but the most egregious cases.  Speaking to the US Attorney's office multiple times yielded only a request to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), get them to open a case, and to have them forward the results of their investigation to a prosecutor there.  They said that after all of the above was completed, they'd be in touch to let me know whether they could prosecute.  The FBI not-so-politely informed me that they didn't care a whit about my case, that it wasn't important, and that they were too busy catching real criminals to be bothered.  As noted above, the 'gentleman' did request I fill out a web form at the IC3 website.

The laws relevant to online stalking, threats, defamation and libel, follow:

While all of the above makes it abundantly clear that - in my case - a handful of federal laws were violated, we must, again, have enforcement of the law or it's worthless (as it was in my case).  When law enforcement chooses not to get involved, all we can do is pursue civil action and clean up the mess when the harassment stops.


Online Defamation Cleanup & The Communications Decency Act, §230

US Law - Defamation "Cleanup"

'Cleaning up' online defamation typically requires one of two things:
  1. A website operator willing to help, who caves easily under threat, or who happens to also be the content creator, or
  2. A court order, which is, apparently, exceedingly difficult to obtain, and which RipOff Report will likely ignore, challenge, and prevail over.
If the website operator is willing to help or has an intolerance for risk [of lawsuit], your task is simple:  send a few emails or a strongly worded letter, and the defamatory information disappears.  Voila!

If, on the other hand, the website operator is not the creator of the content, understands their rights, and profits from the publication of the defamatory content, cleaning up may be extremely difficult, as US law will work directly against you (ostensibly to protect the "digital economy").

Generally, the online publication of false and harmful content is, for purposes of the law, considered defamation (as in, the tort); however, US law draws a distinction between content creators and content publishers.  If the content creator is also the content publisher, a simple defamation lawsuit against this person/entity should resolve the issue.  If, on the other hand, the content creator is just a user of another service who is the content publisher (e.g. Yelp!, RipOff Report, or others), then you likely have few options.

To help this make sense, let's look at the law:
The relevant section of US code is 47 USC §230, which is entitled 'Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material'.  This section establishes the previously mentioned distinction between content creators (known as 'information content providers', "ICP"s) and content publishers (known as 'interactive computer services', "ICS"s, defined fully below).  In order to protect online service providers, it clarifies that only content creators can be held responsible for their content, and that publishers are immune from liability. 

To restate and clarify, this section of law states that if an ICS didn't create some particular content, and are merely publishing the content (oftentimes continuously, as on the web) on behalf of an ICP, that they're not responsible for it, and thus can't be held liable for its publication or any harm that might come of such publication, even if they know the content is defamatory and harmful.

The relevant sections read:

47 USC §230(c)(1): No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

47 USC §230(f)(2):  The term “interactive computer service” means any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including specifically a service or system that provides access to the Internet and such systems operated or services offered by libraries or educational institutions.

This effectively shifts responsibility for content away from any service that publishes said content on behalf of any third party.

Here's an illustration of how pursuing a defamation case against an ICS (who didn't create the offending content) might play out in the real world: 
  1. An anonymous poster posts a malicious 'complaint' on a 'consumer complaint' website like RipOff Report or PissedConsumer - or any number of others,
  2. The subject of the complaint objects to the posting on the grounds that it's blatantly false and defamatory,
  3. The subject - unsure who posted the complaint (it was posted anonymously) - then files a lawsuit challenging the publication of this information,
  4. The consumer complaint service responds with a simple motion to dismiss, citing CDA §230 safe harbors - essentially arguing that they are not the creator, and thus not the speaker of the defamatory content, and thus not liable or responsible for it, and then
  5. The court grants the motion and dismisses the case - ruling in favor of the defendant - as they should, as the law is very clear.
  6. You may be countersued by the ICS.
This is a problem because the law permits continuous and indefinite publication of defamatory content, by anyone, as long they don't create the content themselves.

Essentially, what the law says, and the courts have affirmed, is that some anonymous person can defame you, and any ICS can publish the defamatory statements indefinitely; regardless of whether whatever it is may or may not ruin your business or your life.

Rant About RipOff Report

It's worth noting, again, that ROR charges no fees for its primary service (the publication of 'consumer complaints' that aren't always actually consumer complaints) and generates revenue solely from advertising and through it's 'corporate advocacy' and 'VIP arbitration' programs, whereby it charges those mentioned on the site to help 'clean up' their online reputation.  What a great model:  wait for someone to be harassed and/or defamed (legitimately or not), continuously publish it online while fighting to keep it there, and then allow the victim to pay you in exchange for a chance to have the content removed. 

This is, in my view, tantamount to extortion, and it is, unfortunately, enabled by the language of CDA §230.

The Other Side of the Coin

I do believe that protecting content publishers is necessary to ensure the proliferation of ideas and the growth of the digital economy; just imagine what it'd be like if anyone could sue anyone else for any content that appears on their site, even if they didn't create it.  To protect these publishers and providers of new and innovative services, we must have a law like CDA §230, or some entirely new legal construct.

I believe that either:

Case Law

There are a number of cases where the publication of defamatory or fraudulent content has been challenged: And many cases involving - directly or indirectly - RipOff Report (also known as badbusinessbureau.com and Xcentric Ventures, LLC, run by Ed Magedson):
I have the original complaints, motions, and decisions for many of these cases and will post them as time permits.  I'm not aware of any case where the defendant, properly citing §230 protections, did not prevail.

Please do let me know if I'm missing any cases at:  defamation@briangortney.com.

My Case


As noted above, many laws were violated while I was harassed, and some of the defamatory statements posted online by my harasser remain accessible even today.

Following is a summary of the legal issues related to my case: I'm currently reviewing case law, talking with lawyers, and sorting through my options to deal with the remaining defamatory posts.  I'll update this page as things progress.

Links & Resources





Search Engines

Get Involved!

I'm currently in the process of writing a bill to be proposed to the United States Congress.

This bill will modify law to protect both content publishers, and victims of online harassment and defamation.

Check back soon!
1 http://www4.vindy.com/extra/tributes/905405262.html

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