By Aaron Krolik and Kashmir Hill, The New York Times Company
I wanted to slander someone.
My colleague Kashmir Hill and I were trying to learn who is responsible for — and profiting from — the growing ecosystem of websites whose primary purpose is destroying reputations.
So I wrote a nasty post. About myself.
Then we watched as a constellation of sites duplicated my creation. To get slander removed, many people hire a “reputation management” company. In my case, it was going to cost roughly $20,000.
We soon discovered a secret, hidden behind a smoke screen of fake companies and false identities. The people facilitating slander and the self-proclaimed good guys who help remove it are often one and the same.
At first glance, the websites appear amateurish.
They have names like BadGirlReports.date, BustedCheaters.com and WorstHomeWrecker.com. Photos are badly cropped. Grammar and spelling are afterthoughts. They are clunky and text-heavy, as if they’re intended to be read by machines, not humans.
But do not underestimate their power. When someone attacks you on these so-called gripe sites, the results can be devastating. Earlier this year, we wrote about a woman in Toronto who poisoned the reputations of dozens of her perceived enemies by posting lies about them.
To assess the slander’s impact, we wrote a software program to download every post from a dozen of the most active complaint sites: more than 150,000 posts about some 47,000 people. Then we…