Saturday, September 25, 2010

Monica Pignotti: Exposing Tactics of Cyber Abusers

Updated with new items added: September 25, 2010

To anyone who Googles my name, "Monica Pignotti" it will become all too obvious that I have been the target of a cyber-abuser for more than a year now because of a stand I have taking against certain interventions for children that I consider to be dangerous. I am taking on a certain therapy guru that most people are too afraid to deal with and and he and/or his followers and supporters have managed to successfully intimidate a number of people into silence. Hence, I am becoming an informal expert at the kinds of tactics they use. In this posting I will be listing some of them. Some of the tactics are modernized versions of age-old propaganda tactics.
  • Take negative events from a person's past, repeatedly highlight them and blow them all ouf of proportion, failing to note anything positive about the person. This is a well-known propaganda tactic. For example, many of the posts portray me as a "Scientologist" neglecting to mention that I left and completely repudiated Scientology 34 years ago and am now a well-known critic of Scientology. An old civil court case involving Larry Sarner has been posted endlessly about and is being misrepresented as a criminal matter, when Sarner never had any criminal charges against him.
  • Outright fabrications. All kinds of completely absurd lies have been posted about me that have no basis whatsoever in fact.
  • Repetition of lies and meaningless phrases. For instance "fringe group writer" is a meaningless phrase that have been repeatedly endlessly to describe me when in fact, I have a CV full of publications in reputable peer reviewed journals and a book contact with a highly reputable academic publisher. "Fringe" is a subjective term that is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose to a true believer in a guru-led therapy, anyone who questions is an outsider, hence, "fringe". To the propagandist, repetition of lies and meaningless phrases is key. Repeat a lie enough and it will believed, at least by people who have sponge-like minds rather than active minds and lack sufficient critical thinking skills to question what they read. As Eileen Gambrill has pointed out, that is what propaganda is designed to do -- manipulate the audience to accept an agenda with the least thought possible.
  • Attempts to reframe any positive achievements and attributes as negatives. For example, lying that I was fired from FSU when, in fact, I only left FSU because I graduated with my PhD and left in good standing in every way.
  • Framing and gaslighting. Here is where things get very serious. Someone answered an ad on Craigslist through an anonymous remailer, claiming to be me. This was followed by postings about me, misportraying me as paranoid and delusional when the fact is that Craigslist is taking this criminal matter very seriously. Another example from the 1970s (pre-internet) is when Scientology attempted to frame Paulette Cooper by forging bomb threats in her name. This very nearly resulted in very serious consequences for her, although she was eventually cleared and her record completely expunged when documents planning the frameup were seized from Scientology's headquarters in a raid. The term "gaslighting" comes from the classic movie about a young woman who was made to think she was losing her mind, all the while being manipulated by a psychopath who was doing the things she was being accused of. This one is more difficult to accomplish with me, since I am not a young woman and have a solid track record of years of mental stability with no psychiatric history whatsoever.
  • Taking facts out of context and presenting them in such away that they are completely misleading. For example, posting an article that I co-authored on Thought Field Therapy, neglecting to mention that I had published a retraction of the article and had completely repudiated its contents. In the latest posting they did mention that I had "renounced" the article, but they still presented two tables from the article and then drew a completely erroneous conclusion from them, stating that I made claims that in fact, I never made.
  • One or two people, posting under multiple identities (sock puppets) in order to make it appear as if a mob of people are against the individual who is the target.
  • Putting the victim in a double bind. If the victim chooses not to respond, lies are posted that go unchallenged. If the victim chooses the less conventional approach of standing up to and confronting the cyber-abuser, the victim is then accused of having an internet addiction, being an "attention whore", being unstable and all kinds of other nonsense. Even though the conventional wisdom is not to respond, there is no real evidence that this is an effective tactic. People tend to confuse the individual with the situation and need to keep in mind that it is the situation and the cyber abuser who are insane, not the target.
  • Flooding newsgroups such as alt.religion.scientology with anonymous postings and then when I respond to them (I know, some people think that is a big mistake) they cite this as proof that I am still preoccupied with Scientology, when very few of the postings about me had anything to do with Scientology. Update: I have not responded to the smear spam about me on alt.religion.scientology for several months now, yet the postings continued, which shows that all the people who thought they would just go away if I quit responding, were sadly mistaken.
  • Attempting to flip things. For example, calling someone who debunks and criticizes quackery, a quack. One notorious example is when quacks debunked by Stephen Barrett called him a quack. Accuse the victim of being the harasser. The same has been done to me. See Fairfax Underground for all too obvious examples, a site that has garnered me tremendous support because the postings there make it blatantly obvious that I am the one who is the victim of an all-out cyber smear campaign.
  • Portraying the victim of the cyber abuse as paranoid, mentally unstable, a kook or a crank. This tactic has been used against ex-patients who have chosen to blow the whistle on their therapists and this puts them in a very vulnerable situation. For example, some people who were misdiagnosed with multiple personalities will carry the stigma of that bogus diagnosis for life, thanks to the cronyism running rampant in some mental health systems who refuse to discipline the quacks who make such a misdiagnosis. In my case, however, I am not an ex-patient and have never had any kind of diagnosis of a mental illness, no psychiatric treatment whatsoever, no history of hospitalization or anything like that and when I have taken tests as part of my participation in research studies, they have been completely normal. Therefore, claiming I am mentally ill constitutes libel. Additionally of interest, I worked for a neuropsychologist who specializes in psychological testing and he had me tested on some measures that I later found out, contained measures that would indicate if the person was not being truthful, and he let me know that the standardized psychological tests showed I am very honest.
  • Do anything possible to make the person look as kooky and unattractive as possible. Pictures of very obese women have been posted with my name on them, pictures of women in kooky dress have been posted. I have been called names such as "pig" that I have not been called since the second grade in spite of the fact I was always quite thin as a child (due to people ignorant of Italian pronunciation of my last name [peen-yocht-tee], mispronouncing my name). At this point, it really deteriorates into juvenile nonsense that makes me wonder the age of some of these posters. When I became an adult, I had thought that the days of people ignorant of Italian pronunciations calling me "pig"were over. Guess I was wrong about that and that contrary to the bad rap children are given, they are not the only ones who can be cruel.
  • If all else fails, start rattling those sabers. Pretend to be a court clerk and make threatening postings on a local website about how the whistleblowers will be sued and drained financially. The problem with that is that people who have real cases, don't have the need to attempt to frighten their opponents into submission. They simply sue and win. It is only people who have no case that have the need to attempt to threaten and intimidate. I am not motivated by money, own no property and live very simply. I realize that this is very difficult for people of the mentality I am dealing with to grasp, but I am motivated by loyalty to principles and values and my values and principles cannot be taken away through a lawsuit. Even if I am broke, destitute and in debt, my values and principles cannot be taken away by any form of thuggery or abuse of the legal system. In the highly unlikely event that an egregious legal injustice did occur, I would still have the peace of mind of knowing that I stood up for my principles and values.
  • Use scare tactics and resort to blackmail. Hire a so-called internet reputation management company that plays dirty (not all play dirty but some do). Attempt to make the person a target. Buy the domain name of the person and put up a website full of filth, bigotry and lies and then call the person up and threaten the person that unless they cease their criticism, the website will stay up. This was tried recently with one of my colleagues and it did not work as he will not back down from his legitimate, truthful criticism.
  • Take any idiomatic expressions or figures of speech used by the target and twist them into meanings never intended. There are two examples of this where I am concerned. The first one, I made a play on words based on the idiomatic expression to yank one's chain, and before I knew it there were postings all over the internet suggesting that I wanted to literally chain people up. No, to yank someone's chain means only to be verbally provocative to get a reaction and for this particular person who had become obsessed with hatred of me, the mere mention of my name, yanked his chain, it would seem. The second is when I used the expression "if we could go back in time" which was followed by postings that I am obsessed with "time travel" when all I did was use a figure of speech. I haven't figured out if the cyber stalker lacks the intelligence to think metaphorically and understand figures of speech or if this is a deliberate distortion. I am no more obsessed with "time travel" than Cher is (for the humor impaired, Cher had a hit song called "If you could turn back time").
  • Read sinister motives into anything the person does, no matter how innocent. I sometimes update my blog postings if new ideas occur to me or if circumstances change. For example, in one posting I stated that ACT had never been sued. When they did get sued, that changed and so I updated my blog article to reflect that change in circumstances. I just updated this particular blog article as I noticed additional tactics being used. I also update my CV regularly like all reputable professionals do when there are things to add or if I learn something new about what is or is not appropriate to include. Thoughtful and honest people provide such updates. For my intentions, which were to be as honest and accurate as possible, I get slammed for trying to rewrite history or "time travel" and all kinds of sinister and/or whacky motives are read into completely innocent and sensible actions. I have to say, though, that people I respect are in no way falling for this nonsense that my cyber stalker is trying to pull because the ridiculous spin he attempts to pull are obvious to anyone with at least half a brain.
  • Take advantage of the fact that we're all imperfect human beings. Let's face it. We all have had moments when we have made a statement that we didn't really mean, but if you are unfortunate enough to be the target of a cyber abuser, as I have been, that person will seize on the statement, pluck it out of context and repeat it over and over. One activist against cell phone use while driving who had a loved one killed, made a statement on Oprah that she wished cell phones had never been invented and who can blame her? By the same token, who can blame someone who has the internet repeatedly used against them as a weapon of abuse, spreading reputation destroying lies about them with the click of a mouse, for saying in the heat of the moment that she wished the internet had never been invented, even if that person didn't literally mean it any more than the person who said she wished the cell phone had never been invented. This kind of taking a moment when something was said that one doesn't mean and then repeating it out of context, month after month, is taking the victim and tromping all over her, just as the people I criticize do with the lives of innocent children when they wrestle them down to the ground and forcibly hold them in a dangerous position, all in the name of "therapy" while screaming and yelling in their face. And that, my friends, is why I will not be silenced. The more you try to victimize and tromp on me, the louder my voice for all of your victims who have been silenced, becomes. Got that, cyber bully? And from the looks of recent postings to Fairfax Underground (and no, they were not done by me because I have been blocked from posting there), it sounds like some of the people you think you have silenced are now regaining their courage to speak up and call you out on your antics. And yes, I am very thankful to the internet for existing and if I could go back in time, I would change nothing because just as the internet can be an agent of destruction, it can also be a positive agent for change.
These are just a few tactics used by cyber abusers and cyber stalkers. If you Google my name, "Monica Pignotti" examples will be found. I will be adding more, as they occur to me. If anyone reading this has had similar experiences, please feel free to respond and add more of your own, if you wish. The more people who are having this problem refused to be shamed and come forward, the more chance there is that cyber abuse can be combated and cyber abusers defeated.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cyber Abuse: Monica Pignotti's Story Part I

Updated: September 1, 2010 [Part I will now appear at a later date than Part II because the article was updated to reflect what is currently happening - e.g. I had stated that no one had ever sued ACT and now that is no longer the case, hence the need for an update]

I am going to begin by telling my own story of what has been happening to me on the internet, to provide people with some context as to what is going on when they do Google searches on my name, Monica Pignotti. I am on the professional advisory board of an advocacy group for children, called Advocates for Children in Therapy (ACT). The purpose of ACT, is basically to expose dangerous, harmful practices that are being delivered to children in the name of "therapy" and to advocate for the victims. Needless to say, the therapists who are being so exposed are not happy with ACT and some have fought back with vicious attacks on critics such as myself. However, everything on the ACT website has been thoroughly documented and in spite of repeated threats to sue, no one has done so. [Update: This was true at the time I wrote it. However, on June 18, Ronald Federici, PsyD sued ACT, Jean Mercer and Charly Miller in small claims court in Virginia. He lost all three cases. However, following that, he filed a new, larger lawsuit in Circuit Court of Virginia asking for $300,000 in damages against me, Jean Mercer, Charly Miller, ACT, Larry Sarner and Linda Rosa. The case was removed to Federal court by the defendants who the filed Motions to Dismiss. On March 4, 2011 the case was dismissed on the grounds of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Main documents for this case are available on the Citizen Media Law website. Following the dismissal of this case, the anonymous smear campaign greatly escalated against me]

Note that this is an advocacy organization and thus, the tone of the website is one of an advocacy organization, not a professional journal. I do not write any of the material for the website, although one of the things I am being attacked for is the so-called "tone" of this website, while such people apparently ignore all the evidence that is there of the harm that is being done to children in the name of "therapy". While the content of the website does appear to be sensational, this is a matter of shooting the proverbial messenger because the truth about what is occurring is, in reality, quite horrific and it is difficult to tell it in a manner that would not appear sensational to a reader who is not aware of what is happening.

Additionally, adults are now coming forward who say they are survivors of this so-called therapy that they had to endure when they were children and are essentially blowing the whistle on the abuses and some of these courageous people have started their own blogs. Again, these are not my blogs and I have no control whatsoever over their content, yet my attackers are holding me responsible when these blogs were started by people who I have never even met, who I have no influence over whatsoever.

In some of the attacks on me, my attackers have made it evident that they feel justified in telling intentional lies about me because they claim that these whistle blowers are telling lies about them. My only advice to people has been to look at the blog entries, read the testimonials of the survivors and decide for yourselves whether you find them credible. Personally, I do find much of what they have to say consistent with known facts about these therapies that have been demonstrated on videos and that have come out in court cases. However, that does not mean that I am responsible for or have personal knowledge of every single detail in those blogs. For instance one parent claimed that she spent a total of $20,000 with a particular therapist. Although I can say that I find this entirely possible and credible that this amount could have been spent over a period of one time, I cannot say that I have any personal knowledge of this and it certainly is not a claim I ought to be held responsible for and I certainly had no control over its posting. However, my attackers do hold me responsible for it and feel they are getting their revenge by spreading intentional, malicious lies about me all over cyberspace (for example, that I was fired from a university, which I was not and the most outrageous lie that I have been arrested, which I most certainly have not and a background check will reveal that I have no criminal record whatsoever).

There are a number of prominent people in the mental health profession on this advisory board of ACT. However, my name came to the attention of the therapists in question because I co-authored some scholarly articles that were published in professional journals, which criticized such therapies. Namely:

Pignotti, M. & Mercer, J. (2007). Holding therapy and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy are not supported and acceptable practices: A systematic research synthesis revisited, Research on Social Work Practice, 17, 513-519.

Mercer, J. & Pignotti, M. (2007). Shortcuts cause errors in systematic research synthesis: Rethinking evaluation of mental health interventions. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5, 59-77.

and the latest:

Mercer, J., Pennington, R.S., Pignotti, M., & Rosa, L. (2010). Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy is not "evidence-based": Comments in response to Becker-Weidman and Hughes. Child and Family Social Work, 15, 1-5.

Once my name became known, what apparently happened was that they Googled my name and found me to be a very easy target for their smear campaign, due to my associations in the distant past which were never a secret, but which they could dwell on and blow all out of proportion, making it appear as if they were recent or current, rather than distant. Who among us who came of age during the 1960s or 1970s, would like to have what they were doing around that time constantly repeated and spread all over the internet as if it represents the entire identity of the individual? Think about it. How would you like to have all of your youthful mistakes capitalized on and endlessly repeated all over cyberspace? That is just one part of what is happening to me.

Click here to read Part II

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Charly Miller Responds to Lies and Disinformation Campaign Against Her

Update: Charly Miller's website is back up, thanks to the courage of Project DoD, who will not be intimidated by baseless threats.

Another target of the same disinformation campaign I have been subjected to is Charly Miller. The reason for this is that Charly Miller has an excellent website on restraint asphyxia filled with solid citations and evidence on the dangers of certain methods of restraint. Her resume reveals that she is very highly qualified in her field.

One of her webpages is about her views, as an expert on restraint asphyxia, on Ronald Federici's methods, as described in his book, Help for the Hopeless Child. To see the restraint method illustrated in Federici’s book, go to the book’s site on Amazon:

Click on “Look Inside” and search in the book for “SEQUENCE ONE HOLDING” and go to where this phrase appears on page 111.

The result has been lies and misinformation about Charly Miller that have been spread by an anonymous individual on various newsgroups, blogs and ads throughout the internet. The most ludicrous is that she was attacked for attending Renaissance Fairs in a wench's costume as a hobby! It appears to be the same anonymous individual who has been spreading lies about me. Click here and here and for Charly Miller's response and rebuttal that shows the egregious lies, distortions and irrelevancies circulated by anonymous crackpot bloggers about her.

This is a lesson in propaganda tactics and selective reporting. For example, they selectively report on things she was falsely accused of, failing to mention that the charges were shown to be completely bogus, never proven and she was completely exonerated. The apparent assumption is that people who are accused of things are automatically guilty. They fail to mention all of the background she has that makes her highly qualified and focus on the fact that currently she isn't licensed, neglecting to mention that licensure is not required for what she has been doing for the past decade or so.

This seems to be a favorite tactic of cyber-smearers, who tried the same thing with Jean Mercer, a highly qualified developmental and experimental psychologist who has been an expert witness in cases involving child abuse at the hands and/or advice of so-called attachment "therapists". The ignorant cyber-abusers apparently either don't understand that developmental psychology is not a profession that has licensure or purposely choose to ignore this fact.

They ignore the fact that the only thing a license is needed for is direct practice, not teaching, blogging, book writing, professional publication, or any of the other activities people engage in. They also ignore the fact that being licensed is no guarantee of anything other than the fact that the person has attained the requisite degree level, passed a specified period of supervision and in most states, takes the required number of credits continuing education (CE) courses, although all too often, highly questionable therapies are given CEs. Click here for some other myths about licensure. To put it briefly, licensure does not guarantee expertise and accuracy and expertise and accuracy does not necessarily require licensure. What the average person doesn't realize is how difficult it is to get most state boards to take action against anything other than the most obvious violations and even that can sometimes take years to accomplish, while the licensed professional remains in practice.

The bogus anonymous bloggers used a similar selective reporting tactic with Larry Sarner by taking a court case he was involving and completely distorting things, accusing him of fraud when the case was a civil, not a criminal case that had nothing to do with fraud.

Anonymous postings have claimed that certain unnamed people are trying to obtain my records from FSU, through the FOIA and although my record there is squeaky clean, they will undoubtedly attempt to distort things. Stay tuned to find out how they do this. I have never been fired from any professional job I have ever held and my teaching evaluations were favorable and I was told by the Associate Dean that they were considered acceptable, but they will undoubtedly find a way to smear my reputation by their distortions in a way that will be all too obvious.

What never ceases to amaze me is the lack of awareness on the part of these cyber abusers as to how they are perceived. No one with any intelligence would give credibility to an anonymous individual who lacks the courage to put his name to the statements the vague, unsubstantiated insinuations being made and the all too obvious distortions, but apparently cyber abusers think their readers are too stupid to see through it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to help if someone you care about is being cyber-abused

One thing that has made this whole ordeal more difficult for me is when well-meaning people offer advice to me that is so far off the mark, that it only adds to the stress and isolation of the experience. Here are some things NOT to do:
  • Do not assume that you know all about this phenomenon. No one does. This is very new and common folk wisdom about what to do (e.g. do not ever respond to attackers) might not be the best choice. There is no real evidence that not responding to a cyber abuser will make that person stop. It depends on the situation and what the person's goal is. In my case, the goal is to make an example of me and intimidate me from speaking out against this particular abusive therapist. My colleagues are also being attacked and they have responded very little, if at all. I am in a situation where I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.
  • Whatever you do, do not respond publicly to the victim in a way that blames the person. However things may appear, remember that the term "willing victim" is self-contradictory. Victims are, by definition, not willing. Saying things like "you're really not handling this very well", "you need to see a therapist", "you really are bringing this on yourself by responding" and other publicly given statements like this do not help the victim. What they do is give the cyber-abuser more ammunition, so if you really care about the victim and have something to say, say it via private e-mail or in person.
  • Also recognize that it is the cyber abuser who is the one who is mentally disturbed and needs a therapist, not the victim. The victim might need therapy to deal with the tremendous amount of stress this experience brings, but again, if you feel that way, say it privately to the victim, not publicly. Saying it publicly only adds to the humiliation and provides the cyber-abuser with the idea to then start calling the person "crazy". Most therapists are also clueless about cyber-abuse and could end up doing more harm than good and it is possible that they could add to the trauma by blaming the victim, unless they are among the very few therapists who specialize in this and know that cyber abuse is not the victim's fault.
  • Realize that unless you have experienced cyber abuse yourself, you have no idea what it is like to experience cyber-abuse, so don't condescend to the victim. You might want to sit in armchair judgment of the person, but really, there is no way to know that you would be handling it any better and it is arrogant for you to presume that.
What can you do to help:
  • Listen to the victim. Really try to understand what her experience is about and if you care, try to learn, rather than assume you know what this is all about and what to do because you don't. Nobody really does at this stage of the game because this is such a new phenomenon.
  • Support the person when she is being attacked. Do not criticize the victim publicly. Instead, if you are going to post on the thread, call the cyber abuser out on his or her behavior. Unless you want to support the cyber abuser, this is not the time and the place to deliver a lecture to the victim about how you think she should be handling this.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Online Mobbing

I came across an online article on workplace mobbing, that perfectly describes situations that happen not only in the workplace, but also on the Internet. See:

What was especially of interest is the authors' notation of the fact that all too often the target gets blamed as if the person was deficient in some way for being a magnet for such bullies and that makes the person, who did not deserve this abuse in the first place, even more of a pariah. Here is what experts on this topic have found about who is likely to be a target and it really dispels some of the myths that are out there that blame the targets.

Targets of Mobbing
An individual can be mobbed regardless of age, race, religion, gender, or rank within an organization (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie 2000; Leymann, n.d.). Though any person is susceptible to being mobbed,those individuals who are devoted, loyal, creative, organized, cooperative and experienced professionals, seem to be at a higher likelihood to experience mobbing ((Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999).

It is suggested that particularly creative individuals may often be subjected to mobbing because they promote new ideas which may challenge others (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999). Mobbing may begin out of jealousy over the superior competence of the target, envy over the targets social skills or envy regarding the positive attitude of the target that attracts colleagues to them (Namie and Namie, 2000). At times mobbing is done as a bully revels in animosity, gaining pleasure from the excitement that it creates, giving the bully what Westhues (2002)calls “the euphoria of collective attack”.

This definitely fits my situation, since in the mental health professions, people who dare to challenge the unsupported assertions of certain therapists who are considered to be authorities and "experts" is seen as a major threat. Although my criticism may be viewed as harsh, I have always taken great care to support my views and have not spread lies about people, as I am falsely accused of doing. Also, I was told by the director of one program that my achievements might be seen as a threat to some people, which brought to my mind Ayn Rand's description of envy as "hatred of the good for being good, hatred of success for being success."

So next time a person wants to rub salt in the wounds of someone who is already being damaged by a cyber abuser, please keep that in mind and put the blame squarely where it belongs: with the perpetrators. Here is what they say about characteristics of perpetrators:

Who Mobs
The literature is particularly critical of the perpetrators of mobbing. According to Namie and Namie (2000) those who instigate mobbing tend to be bullies, who try to dominate people in nearly every encounter. They are described as “inadequate, defective, and poorly developed people” (Namie and Namie, 2000, p. 14). They tend to be unpredictable, angry, critical, jealous, and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie 2000). Finally,lass (1999) describes them as representing “everything bad” (p. 239).

Full references available at the above URL. This is a topic where proper education and information is sorely needed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Definitions and Clarity

There are grave injustices occurring on both sides of this issue. On one end of the spectrum are libel laws such as those that as I understand it, exist in the UK that have the effect of silencing people who had, in my opinion, legitimate criticism such as Simon Singh. On the other end are people such as myself who are having our reputations ruined with libelous and defamatory postings on the internet and unless we are able to spend around $100,000 to sue and willing to be subjected to gross violations of privacy, are really powerless to do anything legally about it. Even for people who can afford it, sometimes the cure of suing is worse than the disease of having ones reputation damaged.

It occurred to me that both types of problems are due to a lack of clarity in definitions. I am not a lawyer and certainly no expert on the law, but the problem as I see it is more of a philosophical one than a legal one. It deals with very basic philosophical questions coming from the branch of philosophy known as epistemology, which deals with the question of how do we know what we know? What are facts of reality? Is there any such thing as a fact of reality? Can these facts be known or is everything subjective opinion? Also, even deeper ontological questions about whether there is a reality at all, that exists independently of our thoughts, are involved. The way these questions are addressed will have an impact on outcomes in our legal system.

Laws vary from state to state, but basically, my understanding is that in the US, to win a libel or slander case (libel applies to the written word, slander, to the spoken word), three things must be demonstrated [note again, I am not a lawyer, this is just my lay person's understanding so if any lawyers read this, please feel free to correct me if I am mistaken]:
1. That a factually false statement was publicly made about an individual or organization
2. That the person who made the statement did so knowingly with malicious intent and
3. That doing so damaged the reputation of the plaintiff

People are free to express their opinions, but they are not free to intentionally lie about an individual, especially when that lie damages their reputation. In other words someone could say that in their opinion, they think I am an immoral woman, but if they state that I had an affair with a certain married man and I did not and they deliberately lied, that would meet the first criteria for libel or slander.

Now let's go back and examine the philosophical premises behind this law. First of all, in order for there to be a factually false statement, there needs to be an underlying premise that an objective reality exists that would be the basis for such facts. Otherwise, facts would be meaningless. Furthermore, the law assumes that such facts are knowable, otherwise it would be futile to even try to take anything to court. So far, so good. It seems pretty clear cut. Just go to court, prove that someone made a factually false statement about you and did so maliciously and this harmed your reputation and you win. However, it's rarely that simple. Sometimes judgments get confused with facts and this appears to have been what happened in Simon Singh's case. He was sued for describing the chiropractic profession as "bogus". "Bogus" is a judgment, an opinion, an evaluation. Such judgments can be rational and based on facts or they can be irrational, so I am not meaning to convey that all judgments are equally valid. However, they are judgments rather than facts. A fact would be stating something specific that an individual had done, for example, stating that Dr. X was charging his patients $100,000 and used Device XYZ which he claimed had research to back it up when it did not, hence it was bogus. Bogus would be the evaluation of the individual, however it would be the facts that would be the basis of the case, are they true or false? Note that this really is a black and white issue. Either the doctor charged $100,000 or he did not. Either he used device XYZ or he did not. Either device XYZ had scientific evidence that it could cure disease or it did not. However, instead of being charged with facts that could be determined to be true or false, Singh, was charged with using a word "bogus". As I understand it, the charges are that he was saying the people had malicious intent when that was not what he was conveying at all and if one actually read what he wrote, that would be apparent. So here, one word got lifted out of context and poor Simon Singh finds years of his life taken over by having to fight this lawsuit. Needless to say, this can have a chilling effect on anyone considering criticizing something they consider to be bogus. It is worth noting that the UK is also the country where various forms of "alternative" treatments are licensed, which give them an air of legitimacy even if they lack scientific evidence to back them up. What would it mean to be a licensed "expert" of such a practice? But that would be a whole separate discussion I will leave for another time.

In the US, it is more difficult to win a libel case, but here, we have the opposite injustice, people having their reputations damaged who cannot get justice. Stephen Barrett is one of the victims of this form of what in my opinion is an injustice. He sued people for libeling him on the internet and he lost the case, even though false facts were being spread about him, such as calling him a delicensed physician when in fact he is retired and has never been disciplined by his profession. Jean Mercer has been smeared in a similar manner. Her detractors are saying that she failed to obtain a license to practice psychology when she did not "fail", she is a developmental psychologist, not a clinical psychologist and developmental psychology is research degree and not a licensed profession as clinical psychology is.

Another trick is to technically tell the truth but only tell part of the facts and present them in such a way that leads readers to false conclusions. For example, one blatant lie that is being told about me is that I was fired from FSU when I can prove I was not and left in good standing because I graduated. However, in other postings false impressions are created by saying that people made complaints to the dean and now I am no longer teaching there. In fact, there were letters written to my Dean by a therapist I had criticized, Ronald Federici, and some of his colleagues. However, what this misleading piece leaves out is the fact that my Dean decided to not take any action on these complaints because he told me he considered them completely irrelevant to my work at FSU. In fact, those complaints were made the summer of 2009 and my no longer teaching at FSU had nothing to do with those complaints and everything to do with the fact that I graduated and FSU social work does not hire their own PhD grads. So although technically the facts were correct, this really ought to qualify as libel, since it creates a completely misleading impression to the readers that I left under bad circumstances when nothing could be further from the truth.

What is being done to me is being rationalized because Dr. Federici stated in a letter he wrote to me that he feels he is the one who is being libeled and defamed by me. Oh really? I have never written or uttered any factually false statements about him or his work. The material on the ACT website, although I am not responsible for its content, is not libelous. He tried to have it removed for copyright violations and was unsuccessful with that as well, because they were fair use, properly cited quotes of things he said in his own word. He did the same for Charly Miller's website where she described diagrams he had in his book and expressed her opinion about it. Charly's website was down for the required 10 days to comply with DMCA but is now back up. Here we are talking about a genuine right to free speech. She did not commit copyright violations, nor did she commit libel. She was expressing her opinion and giving her evaluation about the restraint procedures for children that had been recommended in a book. What would have made it libel? It would have been libel if she had stated that he recommended procedures he had not recommended, in other words, if she had stated facts that were false, but she did not.

People do have the right to express their opinions and this is a very different matter from people who are anonymously lying about me that I was fired from FSU, did sexual favors for specific people they named in exchange for endorsements, and a number of other knowingly malicious lies that have been spread about me. Some people don't seem to be able to see the difference and perhaps it goes back to the highly subjectivist society we live in, where people do not see facts as facts, but instead, see everything as subjective. There seems to be an inability to distinguish facts from opinions and evaluations and I have to wonder if members of juries would be any better at making such a distinction.

I have been accused by people who are unable to distinguish between these two very different situations, that I am a "hypocrite" when really the basic nature of the criticism that ACT has made of Federici and the smear campaign against my colleagues and I by anonymous people are very different. I give this as an example of how great epistemological confusion exists over what is a fact and what is an opinion, a judgment, an evaluation. Of course, for people who buy into post-modernism or the new age maxim that we create "reality" and that there is no objective reality, this whole topic becomes even more problematic and I wonder how much of this is feeding into the problem.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Monica Pignotti's Story: Part II

I first became aware of the possibility of a smear campaign when one of the survivor whistle blowers who goes by the name, Wayward Radish (WR) posted an e-mail that she said she had received from one of the therapists who was being criticized by ACT, Ronald Federici, PsyD. WR posted the letter dated March 1, 2009, on her blog. In one paragraph, it stated:
While I am a patient man, my limits are about done as you have done some egregious things on this internet. I know all of your names, and could post what I know about your personal and family issues of atheism, scientology, handicaps, depression, mental health issues, sexuality, etc.
This is very similar to the "you're going down" posting described by Sue Scheff in her book that was a prelude to what she had to endure. At the time, I had no idea what was to come, but in fact, these "real, good people", whoever they are have indeed apparently given into their urges to "write more". They been perpetrating an all-out smear campaign against a number of people in ACT. However, I am the one who has been targeted the most, perhaps because of what they found from my past involvement with Scientology (neglecting to mention that I left 33 years ago and have been an outspoken critic ever since) and also because as a newly graduated PhD, I am the most vulnerable. My co-author, Jean Mercer is a retired Professor who had tenure for 20 years prior to her retirement, so although they also have harassed her Dean, there really was nothing that could be done to her, although vicious lies have also been spread about her.

Shortly after this threatening letter appeared, blogs attacking us began appearing and all kinds of libelous and defamatory ads were placed around the internet through Craigslist, Backpage and Indymedia. Fortunately, much to the dismay of the pseudo-free speech advocates who believe the right to free speech means the right to libel and defame, I have been able to have most of these ads removed. However, they have also posted on public messageboards such as newsgroups, where it is pretty much impossible to have anything removed and such defamatory messages now come up on Google searches of my name.

Among the lies being told about me are:
  • That I invented and am selling a quack device called the Pigno-o-meter or Pignotron which is of course, entirely false.
  • That I am being sued for defamation, when I am not. There was one frivolous counter suit against me and 30 others for "racketeering" and other bogus charges that was immediately dismissed and I did not even have to hire a lawyer or appear in court to defend and I have never been sued for defamation or investigated.
  • That I was fired from FSU, which I was not. I graduated from FSU with my PhD and the only reason that I left is because I graduated and FSU Social Work does not hire their PhD grads as faculty. Here, they have managed to turn an achievement that I celebrate into a matter of shame. If anyone has any doubts about this, please contact me and if you are willing to give me your full, verifiable name and a professional affiliation, I will provide you with the names and contact info for references, faculty who I actually worked with at FSU who will vouch for the fact that I graduated and was never in any kind of trouble with them and left in good standing in every way.
  • People posing as students of mine when it is obvious from the content of the postings that they were not because they described things that were not even remotely close to anything that has ever occurred in my classrooms.
  • Lies that I said things about certain FSU faculty, that I called someone a "bag lady" and another one a "tramp" when again, I did nothing of the sort. The latest, most vicious lie in this category was that I was fired for making antisemitic comments about two faculty members when in fact, I was not fired and I nothing even remotely close to what was described ever occurred.
  • Lying that the Dean of the College of Education had called for removal, when she did nothing of the sort and does not even know me.
  • Lying that I had sex with certain prominent psychologists in return for their endorsements, which I have not. This happened after, in my defense, I posted genuine endorsements from psychologists who really do support my work.
  • Repeatedly lying that I had sex with my major professor and dissertation chair at FSU, which I did not. The individual in question is a very happily married man, who to the best of my knowledge, has never shown the slightest bit of interest in any woman other than the woman he has been married to for the past 18 years, nor have I had any interest in him in that way, although I do consider him a good, strictly Platonic friend and colleague.
The latest threat has been that they are going to contact FSU and demand information on me under the FOIA and that they will then do a mass mailing to schools of social work, publishers and anyone else who might potentially hire me. Based on the lies that are being spread about me, my guess that it would be a major smear campaign, in spite of the fact that an FOIA inquiry on me would yield nothing. Last November, an anonymous individual did a mass e-mailing to many of the FSU faculty. However, I was informed that none of them found it the least bit credible, especially since the e-mail was anonymous and written in a rather disjointed fashion that led people to conclude that it came from a highly unstable individual.

Last July, Ronald Federici sent an e-mail to my Dean at FSU, cc'ing two of Federici's colleagues, Heather Forbes and Arthur Becker-Weidman, complaining about me. The e-mail was basically a repetition of the lies that had been spread about me on the internet. My Dean informed me that he chose not to take any action on this whatsoever, as he considered the allegations completely irrelevant to my work at FSU. However, recently lies are being posted that I was fired from FSU due to these complaints, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Additionally, gratuitous negative comments essentially calling me fat, old and ugly have been made and while this does come under the heading of free speech and not as damaging as the outright lies about me, it shows the extremely malicious and highly personal nature of the attacks on me.

So that is a summary of at least some of what has been occurring. I will not post the links here because I don't want to spread this further than it already has. However, a Google search on my name reveals this and more.