Reputation Management Revolution: Fake News Sites And Even Faker DMCA Notices

from the the-dishonest-leading-the-dishonest-into-a-new-world-of-unaccountability! dept

Pissed Consumer has uncovered another apparent case of bad reputation management, this one revolving around bogus websites facilitating bogus DMCA takedowns. It previously exposed a pair of lawyers using shell companies and highly-questionable defamation lawsuits to force Google to delist negative reviews hosted around the web. These faux litigants always managed to not only find the supposed "defamers," but to also obtain a signed admission within 48 hours of the lawsuit being filed -- a process that usually takes weeks or months, especially if the alleged "defamer" utilizes anything other than their real name when posting negative reviews.

In this case, the reputation management scheme involves the use of hastily-set up "news" sites that contain a blend of scraped content and negative reviews hosted at sites like Yelp, Ripoff Report and Pissed Consumer.

Frankfort Herald, frankfortherald.com is a newspaper website that, despite its trustworthy name, has never really existed, for all intents and purposes, before January 2016 (according to archive.org). However, this did not stop them from sending a DMCA notice to Google claiming that they were the owners of the copyrighted material from Pissed Consumer that was published back in 2012.

On April 15, 2016 Pissed Consumer received a takedown notice for a review where frankfortherald.com claimed that they originally wrote the piece of news in question back on January 5, 2012. The review is about Brad Kuskin, and they claimed they had it published only 2 days prior to the article appearing on PissedConsumer.com.
Here's the supposed news article Frankfort Herald claims it owns in its bogus DMCA takedown notice.

The scheme is just as stupid as convicted fraudster Sean Gjerde's rep management Hail Mary: post copies of reviews or articles you want to see vanished at your own website and then issue DMCA notices claiming you own the words of others. It seldom works and tends to draw more attention to the content someone's trying to hide. (Of course, Sean Gjerde went the extra mile and tried to have the FBI's press release about his conviction delisted by Google…)

That's not the only negative content masquerading as "news" at the Frankfort Herald. There's also a negative Yelp review about a Spanish language school, a Ripoff Report review of a Georgia law firm and a CBS story about an apparent scam artist who suckered parents into shelling out thousands of dollars by pretending he was scouting talent for Disney. Disney disavowed any connection to the event. All of these have been targeted by bogus takedown notices under several names linked to the definitely-not-a-local-news-site "Frankfort Herald."

Whoever's behind that site has issued bogus takedown notices under the name "Heart Broadcasting" (a name that can only be found in the Frankfort Herald's site footer), "Frankfort Herald News Corp.," and "Frankfort News Corp." Perhaps most idiotically, it has co-opted the name of one of the world's biggest publishers in hopes of giving its bogus takedowns a veneer of respectability: "Hearst Media LLC."

Other fake "news" sites containing a jumble of scraped content and completely unrelated negative reviews have also issued bogus takedown notices within the last 30 days.

AthaNews sent one on March 25th where the sender claims the following is the result of their journalistic efforts:

Bought a house from Lala Ragimov and her “Developer” Husband “Tod”. On the surface their renovatinos seem solid but there were several red flags that I now wish we listened to. 1) “The Ragimov’s” are effectively the same entity. The claim of a seperate relator vs. develoiper and the games they play about “checking with the developer” are a joke. They are husband and wife! 2) We were told our roof was new but the condition was listed as “unknown” in discolsures. We were told this is common since the roof was repaired not replaced. The building was also conviently too tall to bring an inspector with a ladder without a special fee. The result? Leaks almost immideatley! [...]
Of course, the alleged infringer is none other than Ripoff Report, which shamelessly claimed this "journalist's" misspelling-laden "exposé" into a local realtor as its own. [eyeroll] AthaNews' mission statement -- found in the website's footer -- is lorem ipsum translated into English.

SEI World News is doing the same thing. It issued a DMCA notice to Google on April 7th, claiming one of its "news articles" was being "copied."

I am senior editor and my article is copied . Just to harm my reputation online . The article owner anonymously copied my content . Please look into this matter .
Once again, Ripoff Report is home to the targeted URL. SEI World has been playing this game for several months now, targeting negative reviews at other site with bogus claims of "copied" articles.

Searching Google's DMCA database using Ripoff Report as the target uncovers all sorts of "news" sites claiming negative reviews hosted elsewhere are the genuine byproduct of their journalistic endeavors. "Mass Communications Inc.?" Bogus takedown of a Ripoff Report review. Some site called "Global Girl Magazine" wants Ripoff Report to stop ripping off its "journalist's" work -- which is apparently something about a fund manager with an alleged penchant for scamming clients after taking their retainer fees, written in the first person. The same thing goes for the "Lewisburg Tribune." And so on...

The clustering of DMCA notices seems to point to a single reputation management bozo pulling the strings on multiple websites like a more focused Patrick Zarrelli. On the other hand, the scattershot approach and slippery grasp of the English language exhibited in the DMCA notices may indicate this is nothing more than a bunch of Fiverr freelancers making reputation management promises they can't keep. In some cases, it appears to have worked. Several of the bogus takedowns show Google has taken action and delisted links. But those victories will only be temporary. Any challenge from a legitimate site should see these decisions swiftly reversed.

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Filed Under: censorship, dmca, fake news, reputation management, takedowns
Companies: frankfort herald, pissedconsumer


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  1. identicon
    I.T. Guy, 29 Apr 2016 @ 8:53am

    DMCA used to stifle free speech. Say it isn't so Tim. They said that doesn't happen. This MUST be an exception. If only there was a website that specializes in this sort of thing that could chronicle all the abuses. If only.

    https://www.techdirt.com/search-g.php?q=DMCA+abuse

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