If you're young enough not to remember a time before the internet and social media, it's hard to imagine what life was like. No Facebook or Instagram to keep up with friends, no eBay or Gumtree to sell your unwanted stuff... and get this... you had to walk into an actual shop and speak to an actual person to book a holiday! Crazy.
But like most good things, there's a downside. 20 years ago there was no such thing as cyber-bullying. Or revenge porn. And you couldn't have your reputation trashed or your business ruined by anonymous keyboard warriors writing malicious lies.
What you probably don't know is that there are services out there that can help. One such business is based right here on the Gold Coast. Zach Featherstone started what is now Internet Removals five years ago after seeing what a poor deal victims of this new breed of crime were getting via traditional means.
In other words, you could spend a mozza on lawyers and not even make a dent in the problem
“Traditional remedy was litigation", he says. "If the offender had money, there was the possibility of damages but that was usually unlikely. And after the situation was resolved, the offender could jump on the internet using any of the anonymous IP-masking software and republish without fear of being reprimanded”.
In other words, you could spend a mozza on lawyers and not even make a dent in the problem.
While Internet Removals can't prevent someone re-offending, they can offer a more cost effective option for having malicious material removed.
"If you’re using a law firm, it'll cost you in the region of $1500 for every publication. And that’s just for a letter. You’re not even guaranteed a response", says Zach. While his price averages about the same for an initial removal, the price drops with each subsequent case. This can add up to a substantial saving over the long run. He also offers an ongoing reputation protection service.
"It’s hard to even talk about money when you know someone’s in that sort of position"
- Zach Featherstone
So what kind of stuff is he asked to remove?
He mentions one example of a client who "was being persecuted for his sexual preferences. Gay man, split up with this partner, ran a business. Then all these people find out about the split and started sabotaging his business, sabotaging him online, calling him all sorts of names which were blatantly untrue. He’d never had a criminal history yet they were calling him a child molester and a pedophile and all these disgraceful, damaging words to the point where he was getting sent animal brains in the mail. He’d open his post box and there’d be rotting animal parts."
And it gets worse.
"There’s another case of a lady who’s got a business and is being absolutely sabotaged by competitors on a site called Product Review to the point where one day we got a call where she’s saying, 'I’m a single mum. I’m using wine to cope. I’m driving over a bridge and I just want to take a sharp left and see what happens'”.
Does dealing with this stuff every day affect him emotionally?
“Mate, you have no idea. It can be emotional and in some cases very confronting. It’s hard to even talk about money when you know someone’s in that sort of position. If there’s a genuine risk of harm to an individual, we do make amendments to our pricing.”
“We do get the odd caller who’s on the brink of… pulling the plug, so to speak"
- Zach Featherstone
What if someone's completely broke?
“We do get the odd caller who’s on the brink of… pulling the plug, so to speak. In those cases, fees are irrelevant. We just treat it.”
And revenge porn?
"It’s very big in the US. They have so many sites where you can publish defamatory content and revenge porn because of the first amendment. Defamation law works differently here but over there you can publish pretty much anything. We don’t see too many Australian sites pop up but often the Australian public will utilize US-based sites knowing that it’s harder for them to be traced back.
"The government is making efforts to raise awareness but it’s a tricky one because as you do that, you can also give people ideas and end up pointing them in the direction of where they can cause harm."
If someone you know is suffering from online trolling, now you know which direction to point them in.