Purpose of this Blog

My name is Monica Pignotti and I started this blog to help raise the public's awareness on an issue of growing concern, that of abuse on the internet. Many people tend to laugh this off and blame the victims. However, since more and more innocent people are being targeted and having their lives ruined by this, I felt that it was time to speak out on this topic. I am one such person. You can read about what has been happening to me at this link. Although I am not at this point in time willing to concede that my attackers have succeeded in ruining my life, they certainly have been relentlessly trying to, for nearly a year. If you are tempted to laugh this off and think this is some kind of paranoid kooky notion, think again. These are real people with real lives that are being destroyed and the law has not yet caught up with this phenomenon.

On a professional level, as a mental health professional and scholar who is an advocate for evidence-based practice and science, this issue is especially important to me. What will happen to the profession if critics are ruined in this manner and their reputations destroyed? How will a student or recent graduate in the field respond to that when others are being held up as examples of what can happen if they dare to criticize self-proclaimed "experts" who make unsubstantiated claims and harm others? Without such criticism, such people will be allowed to continue, unchallenged and people entering the field will be discouraged from engaging in criticism if they have any desire to have a career.

Criticism is the way in which science moves forward, through self-correction, but if anyone attempting such a correction is libeled and defamed and their reputation tarnished to the point where no one in the profession wants to hire them, what then? Although we would all like to believe that valid institutions don't take this kind of thing seriously and have the ability to think critically about what's on the internet, the sad fact is that many places do Google searches and if negative things come up, whether true or not, whether believed or not, the targets can find their resumes disgarded, regardless of that person's qualifications for the job. Some people just do not want to get involved, but would rather look the other way.

As a new PhD graduate, I am currently fighting very hard for this to not happen to me and yet not compromise my principles. I do not know yet if I will be successful or if I will be one of the casualties. The profession will have to decide whether criticism is valued and ought to be protected or whether the prime directive is to do whatever is the safest, even if it means refraining from criticizing certain "experts" who may be harming others in the name of mental health treatment. Stay tuned.

I recently read a book by a lawyer, John W. Dozier and a victim, Sue Scheff called The Google Bomb which let me know that I am not alone. Sue's story, although it has differences, is very similar to mine. One of the differences, however, was that she had a house to mortgage and thus could afford to sue her attackers and she won an $11.3 million judgment against one of her attackers, in civil court. However, the book does give other good advice about what people can do to fight back and defend themselves against such attacks or even better, prevent them from getting out of hand in the first place.

Out of curiosity, I Googled Sue Scheff and found that she is still being smeared in the Encyclopedia Dramatica and elsewhere, but at least she was able to do something about this and had a huge victory in court, so good for her! The Encyclopedia Dramatica taunts her for having over 70 blogs, ignoring the fact that this is a valid defense tactic people can use when they are being attacked. Starting multiple blogs that get the truth out can counteract all the blogs and other places in cyberspace where lies are being told. Some of these people have a very real agenda and an axe to grind but others are apparently just young, bored people who have no idea what it means to have a real life and hence, don't realize what it means to damage the life of someone who has worked very hard for years to build a profession and a life. To such a mentality, nothing in life seems to mean much of anything and anyone who really does care about their life and career is attacked as selfish -- "it's all about me, me, me" is a common refrain from such a mentality, denigrating anyone who dares to value their own life.

[as a caveat to my comments about Sue Scheff, I have to note that I am not familiar with her advocacy work. Although her area is somewhat related to mine, hers deals specifically with residential facilities for troubled teens, whereas I deal with evaluating various forms of therapies for children and teens with behavior problems, developmental disabilities and alleged problems with "attachment". This is an area I am nevertheless very concerned about as some of these facilities have shown to harm their clients. Sue's role, as I understand it, is to be an advocate for parents of troubled teens and to make recommendations. However, I am not familiar enough with her work and therefore cannot say whether I would agree with her recommendations or not. What I definitely do object to, however, is the ugly and highly personal smear campaign that she has been subjected to. I saw some of the material that is still up and it is some of the ugliest, most bigoted material I have ever seen. For example, the Encyclopedia Dramatica makes highly anti-semitic remarks in their hateful piece on her]

What I'd like for people to consider is whether these internet trolls, as they are called, are the people who you would like to see in control of society? Most people would say, of course not, but if you are someone who is in a position to hire people and tosses aside the resumes of people because of such things coming up on Google searches, then you are contributing to the problem. In essence, you are agreeing with the internet trolls and allowing them to control the decisions you make. The myth is that where there is smoke there is fire and the tendency is to go into agreement with the trolls that the individual being targeted must have done something to deserve this, that they just crave attention, are drama queens and troublemakers when in fact, more often than not, nothing could be further from the truth. For most people who are victimized by cyber abuse, the last thing they want is attention and drama. It is like telling a person who was raped that she asked for it and the awareness on this issue is about where the awareness was on the issue of rape in the 1950s. It's time to raise the public's awareness and consciousness on this issue. Hence, this blog which I hope will in some small way help with this.

I am very much in favor of free speech. However, there are so-called "free speech" fanatics on the internet who believe that anything should be allowed, including lies about individuals that are highly damaging to their reputations and can virtually wreck a person's business, chances for getting hired, or personal life. Such assaults do far more damage than simply getting mugged on the street and having a pocketbook stolen. Credit cards can be canceled, items from purses can be replaced but unfortunately there is often no way to undo the damage that is done when a person's reputation has been destroyed. The so-called "free speech" fanatics believe that the truth will always come out in a state of anarchy where there are no restrictions at all on what anyone can say. Note that this is not the kind of free speech that the US Constitution guarantees. In our society, people are guaranteed the right to free speech, but they are not guaranteed the right to unlimited free speech that harms others, such as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater or telling intentional, malicious, damaging lies about people. That is libel and slander and assault upon a person's reputation by telling malicious lies is, in fact, an assault that is every bit as much damaging as a physical assault, of not moreso. If telling the truth about someone damages them, then that is within the realm of free speech and the person being damaged because the truth was told means that reality has had its consequences. However, telling a lie about a person that damages them is another matter and anyone who intentionally does so with malice (which is how libel and slander are defined), ought to be penalized and made to compensate the person for damages.

I also note that there are two ends of a false dichotomy here, both of which are highly damaging and grossly unjust. On one extreme are libel laws such as those that exist in the UK, where people are having their genuine rights to free speech destroyed. The Simon Singh case is an example of that and a grave injustice that has virtually taken over his life for the past two years. Simon was sued for legitimate criticism of the chiropractic profession. He has lost several rounds but is still fighting this out in the UK courts and I strongly support the campaign that has ensued and would urge people to sign the petition in his support.

On the other end of the spectrum are people such as Sue Scheff and myself, who have been targeted by people intent on destroying their reputations by spreading malicious lies. It often starts out with known, identifiable people but then spreads throughout cyberspace by anonymous people and it can be expensive and difficult to track such people down. Our law protects anonymous speech and again, this is normally a good thing. However, when such anonymous speech becomes libelous and defamatory, it is the equivalent of a masked robber, an analogy used by John Dozier. What makes this particularly difficult is that while some of the anonymous posters may well be the original people who started things off, posting under a variety of different pseudonyms (known as sock puppets) or their close supporters, sometimes other internet types will jump on the bandwagon, culminating in the cyber equivalent of a public lynching, known as a mobosphere attack.

More details of my own situation will follow in subsequent postings along with a discussion of what might be done about this growing problem. I invite others to respond and brainstorm along with me.


  1. Hi Monica,

    Thanks for the various posts on this blog. They are very helpful for me regarding a situation I am currently struggling with. That situation is not that someone is smearing me, but rather involves me possibly posting an entry on my blog regarding a retraction of a therapist I have previously endorsed. In my draft (which I may post pending some other outcomes), I state: "This is not intended to be a smear campaign against [said therapist]."

    I began to question my statement. Do I want to smear this individual? By posting this retraction and part of my reasons for the retraction, is that smearing the person? I ended up doing a search on what a "smear campaign" is.

    After my bit of research, I realize that my retraction is not a smear campaign, so my statement ("...not intended to be a smear campaign..") is truthful.

    Your blog entries that I have read this morning have been very helpful in helping me recognize within myself when/if I begin/am falling prey to smearing the said therapist.

    As a longtime-previous and recently-exited follower/true believer of what became for me a toxic group & harmful belief system, I had been trained well in self-blame and consistent questioning of my motives. I've also been trained in silencing, something I am thankful to be learning (however clumsily) to overcome.

    Thanks again!
    ~carol welch

  2. Geez....I came to this blog entry to post something I thought of yesterday...and lo...I see I'd posted here last November. Wow. I had no idea in November, 2010, that I'd be thinking what I was thinking about yesterday.

    [I did end up posting the retraction, but not until March, 2011. Thereafter, I began posting more than the retraction; I came forward with more of the story and opinions and personal journal entries. Some may say my additional postings and updates could be a "smear campaign," but I don't think so. Neither "smear" nor "campaign" fits the bill. Making information available to the internet public if they are searching for information fits the bill though.]

    What did I think about yesterday that I came here to mention today?

    I don't want to compare cyber-abuses. And what you (and others) have been through is (imo) traumatic...emotionally, mentally, and I'd think even physically.

    What dawned on me yesterday is that the person who has endeavored to smear me (though I wouldn't call it a campaign), does so using their real name. I asked myself, "Which would be worse...an anonymous smearer or someone who uses their real name?"

    I don't think there is a yes or no answer to that question. It's kind of like asking, "Which tastes better, ice cream or bar-b-que?"

    On one hand, if a perp posts anonymously, the victim doesn't know with whom they are dealing...it's kind of like fighting an illness for which there is no definitive name.

    On the other hand, if a perp uses their real name, wouldn't that (depending on the perp) give the lie more 'credibility'...I mean, who would posts lies like that using their real name?

    And now the thought hits me....who is more disturbed? The one who posts anonymously or the one who posts using their real name?

    Again, a question to which there is no definitive answer.


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