Character Assault On The Internet

Online Accusations and Trial By Algorithms

“The facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” — Detective Joe Friday

In a recent workshop on low-budget film production, the moderator asked the class if anyone had Googled his name. I did, and what I discovered concerned me. Gary had recently been sued for breach of contract and stealing a writer’s screenplay.

Online, Gary was tarred and feathered: The shady producer who swindled an unsuspecting screenwriter — poaching his idea, bilking him out of millions. ‘The Movie Thief’. ‘The Film-Flam Man’.

“If you did, you’ll read about my lawsuit,” Gary confessed. Kudos to him for standing up. Instead of brushing it off, Gary provided his side of the story.


Gary’s defense claimed he never forged a deal, nor the semblance of one with this screenwriter. Gary’s interest piqued over the script’s premise, but he never optioned, or pursued the screenplay beyond a pitch session.

In the meantime, Gary’s legal team uncovered a jaded screenwriter frustrated over his lack of success. Instead of upping his game with saleable scripts, this screenwriter looked for someone to blame and fleece for his failure.

When the plaintiff and his scheme were outed, Gary was cleared of any wrong doing. The lawsuit was dismissed and the situation went away. Well, almost.

Gary’s dilemma involves a higher volume of online articles linking him to the accusation than the resolution. Despite the litigation’s expulsion, there aren’t enough entries about Gary’s vindication to trigger the algorithms.

With less in cyberspace about the outcome, the falsity of the lawsuit outweighs the truth — the dark underbelly of Internet storage.

Because of these articles, the accused criminality continues to dog Gary. In every workshop’s introduction, he needs to address and explain the lawsuit.


Missing facts could haunt the rest of us as well. Think about those who aren’t online. We all know many who might have a profile here or there, but not much else.

These people have chosen to avoid social media and savor their token web presence. They also remain serious and vigilant about their privacy.

Think about the folks in our lives who could be vulnerable to this type of malfeasance. Despite a shady lawsuit getting axed by the courts, the charges alone could spread and remain online. If so, they’d keep these people attached to negative and in some cases, illegal situations.

In the wake of our sue-happy culture, these type of problems are no longer farfetched. Such events could create less-than-favorable profiles as well.

Now the unfortunate are linked to affairs and information dumps they never sought in the first place. Because of their limited presence, there’s nothing to compete for the algorithms to place on the front pages of a web search.

Consider the local business owner or the finalist for a job opening. People who might get Googled for background checks. They might have been cleared of false charges, but remain at risk for sabotage.

What happens then — to these and other innocent people? Where’s the justice in that?

Who has the answer? What’s the logical and plausible steps to expunge such articles? To add addendums? My guess and no pun — virtually impossible.