Reporter submits self to online slander sites to see how the scam works

I missed this fantastic article about the slander-removal complex—websites that host slanderous things about people and ads to remove the same content at exorbitant cost. The New York Times' Aaron Krolik sacrificed his google results, submitting himself to one of them to see the lie spread through the complex. Then he and colleague Kashmir Hill hunted down the ne'er-do-wells involved. It being the Times and the scammers being dumb as bricks, several were willing to be made examples of by the Old Gray Lady.

When I reached out to RepZe via a form on its site to ask about removing one of the posts about me, Sofia called me. She said that for $1,500 the post would be removed within 24 hours. The removal would come with a "lifetime guarantee," she said. She encouraged me to act quickly. "I don't want to scare you, but these posts can spread," she warned. At this point, we figured that when someone paid a company like RepZe to get a post removed, RepZe then paid the complaint site to delete it. But our understanding turned out to be incomplete at best.

Do read it in full! It's wonderful how the characters involved all turn out to be linked, like cockney troublemakers in a caper film. The Times also makes use of the Frauenfeldian "Gentleman".

The grim kicker: if you pay these "reputation managers" off, the lies disappear but the blackmailing begins.

Left until the end are search engines' role in facilitating the problem, doing little to limit the prominence of these conspiciously persistent scam sites and even offering slanderous autocompleted phrases after victims' names. Though there is a complaint form you can submit to Google, the Times reports that it only delists one URL at a time and isn't very useful.

That said, the fire burns wherever the wind blows: Google ads and other rigging were how the Times mapped the gripe site network and identified a key player, who had otherwise tried to avoid tells such as DNS records and shared hosting.