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Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Online Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier by David Thompson, Michael Fertik

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100
Why People Attack
Each Other Online
Your reputation is constantly at risk from malicious attack by
people you know—and even from complete strangers. Every day,
thousands of innocent victims find that they have been smeared, slan-
dered, and dragged through the mud online by one or more attack-
ers. The motives for these attacks vary widely, ranging from petty
jealousy to sociopathy. But these attacks have one thing in common:
they often leave an indelible mark on the victims search results.
Most people are subject to few malicious online attacks, but you
still need to be on guard against them. It is necessary to take pre-
cautions now because malicious reputation attacks create some of
the most severe, pernicious, and persistent forms of reputation dam-
age. Even if you have not yet been a victim of a malicious attack, it
is important to understand the motivations of online attackers so
that you know how to prepare yourself in case of the worst. By anal-
CHAPTER
101Why People Attack Each Other Online
ogy, prudent drivers wear their seatbelts every time they get in the
car, even though they hope to avoid accidents. And, as described in
Chapter 11, starting your preparation now can help prevent and
minimize the damage caused by an online attack; if you have care-
fully bolstered your online profile and carefully monitor your online
reputation for changes, an attacker will find it very difficult to cause
major damage.
This chapter provides insight into the types of people that
might launch an online reputation attack against you. If you are the
victim of an anonymous online attack, this chapter may help identify
who is behind it and how the person can be convinced to stop or re-
tract the attack.
There Have Always Been Attacks on Reputation
Malicious gossip, rumor, and slander are as old as human society.
Ancient texts are filled with stories of whispered conversations and
false allegations. To take just one example, in the Christian Bible,
Paul the Apostle uses people who spread gossip and lies as an exam-
ple of the evil that can infect humankind: They are gossips, slan-
derers, God-haters, haughty, arrogant, boastful, . . . faithless,
heartless, ruthless.
1
The apostle Timothy similarly condemns gos-
sips and busybodies who “[say] things they ought not to.
2
Recorded
examples of gossip go back even further in history; the ancient Greek
leader Pericles, who ruled Athens from 461 B.C. to 421 B.C., was not
immune from public whispering. A popular rumor of the time alleged
that he was always depicted wearing a helmet in order to hide his de-
formed skull.
3
If gossip and slander are common in the offline world, then it
should come as no surprise that they are also common online.
Turning on a computer, sadly, does not replace negative emotions
with positive ones. Nor do people instantly magically become angelic
when they go online. If anything, many people who are polite face-to-
102 Wild West 2.0
face become more aggressive and harsh online. See Chapter 5 for an
explanation of how anonymity can empower ill will.
There can be no complete list of motives for online attacks. Any
attempt to list every possible reason why humans maliciously attack
each other would necessarily be incomplete; every day, people find
new reasons to do horrible things. But there are some common cat-
egories that explain the vast majority of malicious Internet reputa-
tion damage. Among them are jealousy, envy, revenge, bullying,
vigilante enforcement of social norms, politics, business and greed,
extortion, social gossip, and sociopathy.
The Usual Suspects: Jealousy,
Envy, and Revenge
Three of the most common negative human emotions are the cause
of many online reputation attacks. There are no reliable statistics
about the motivations behind online attackers—nor is there likely to
ever be a comprehensive study—but it is a safe bet that more than
half of online smear campaigns against private individuals start with
one of the big three motivations: jealousy, envy, and revenge.
Jealousy
Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed
monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
—IAGO IN SHAKESPEARES OTHELLO
Jealousy is the feeling of insecurity that comes with a fear of losing
something. It is most strongly associated with the feelings of insecure
lovers, who constantly worry that their loved one will leave them for
another. Jealousy of this form is closely related to (but still distinct
from) envy, which is the emotion felt by someone who desires what
somebody else has.

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